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Conservative Republican Mike Lee coasted to an easy win Tuesday over Democrat Sam Granato in Utah's Senate race shifting Utah's representation in Congress even further to the right, and completing a big victory for the tea party nationally.
"Tonight we're witnessing a great tide turning in Washington, D.C.," he said during his victory speech. He held high a copy of the Constitution, which he said is inspired but too often ignored today.
But with his election, along with wins by other tea partiers, he said, "America is awake and watching." He added, "I'll tell you what's next: Balancing the budget will work. Reining in federal spending will work. Reforming our distorted earmarking process will work. Achieving energy independence will work."
Lee said, "The federal government is too big and too expensive," and he has campaigned to fix it. "I intend to govern now as your senator with that very same philosophy." He added that the federal government isn't the solution to any problems, "The federal government is the problem."
Granato said as he called to concede to Lee that the Republican told him that he wants to talk to Granato about what he learned on the campaign. Granato said, "The biggest thing is we need to grow this state together."
Granato said in his concession speech, "It's not the 'R' or the 'D' " behind candidates' names, "It's the U for Utah." Granato said he has no plans to run for other political office, enjoyed his race, and was most surprised by the many Republicans who rallied to help him.
Lee, 39, will replace 18-year incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, 77, who was eliminated in May at the Utah Republican convention. Bennett was ousted largely by tea party-influenced delegates who said he was too liberal even though he had some of the most conservative rankings in the Senate. As Lee said at the GOP victory party, "I'm about as tea party as they come."
Lee and Granato battled in the campaign over who was extreme, and who was mainstream. Granato contended Lee was too-far right for Utah as shown by his vow to avoid spending earmarks which he said would hurt Utah businesses and projects and by vows to balance the budget even if that means cutting spending by 40 percent.
Lee said Utahns like those stands and said it is not extreme to balance the budget. Instead, he said it would be extreme to support President Barack Obama's agenda, and has vowed to try to overturn his health care reform law, cut spending and return to constitutional roots.
Lee has been cheered on in the election with words and money by the tea party movement nationally, which had hailed the early defeat of Bennett as a sign of its emerging power.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., one of the nation's most conservative senators and a tea party icon, helped funnel more than a quarter-million dollars to Lee by soliciting, bundling and forwarding donations to him.
Lee's final election was much easier than his earlier battles in the Republican convention and primary.
After Lee and conservative Tim Bridgewater jointly eliminated Bennett in a second round of voting at the state convention, Bridgewater also almost eliminated Lee in the third and final round.
Bridgewater won 57.3 percent of that final vote at the convention, just missing the 60 percent threshold that would have eliminated Lee and sent Bridgewater directly to the final election.
Instead, the two faced each other in a primary in June and Lee won that by a close 51-49 percent margin.
Lee was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a general counsel to former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a former assistant U.S. attorney general and a former clerk for U.S. District Judge Dee Benson.
He received a law degree from BYU in 1997 and a bachelor's degree in political science from there in 1994. He was also a student body president at BYU, where his father, the late Rex Lee, was a former president and dean of the law school. Rex Lee was also a former U.S. solicitor general, who argued cases for the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mike Lee said previously, "I say only half-jokingly that I was 30 before I realized that not every family talked about politics and constitutional law as we did in ours."
It has now been 40 years since Utah elected a Democrat to the Senate. The last time was when former Sen. Frank E. Moss, D-Utah, won in 1970, when Richard Nixon was president, gasoline cost 36 cents a gallon and a typical household income was $8,700 a year.
Lee will join two second-cousins in the Senate: Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Tom Udall, D-N.M.