West Valley City • After 11 hours of political elbowing and shoving at the Utah Republican Convention — held appropriately at a hockey arena — delegates forced Mitt Romney into a primary election against state Rep. Mike Kennedy in the U.S. Senate race.
In fact, Kennedy — a doctor and lawyer — finished in first place at the convention with 51 percent of the vote to Romney’s 49 percent. The former GOP presidential nominee fell far short of the 60 percent needed to clinch the nomination outright.
Freshman Rep. John Curtis suffered the same fate as Romney, pushed into a primary against former State Rep. Chris Herrod, an ultraconservative who made his reputation on a tough anti-illegal immigration stance. But Curtis, who has been in office just five months after winning last year’s special election, at least won 59 percent of the vote, just missing the 60 percent threshold.
Meanwhile, Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart easily managed to eliminate their convention opponents and will proceed directly to the Nov. 6 general election. Mia Love did not draw a Republican challenger.
A few state legislative incumbents, though, also were roughed up at the Maverik Center and sent to primaries or were eliminated.
Romney blamed his second-place finish — out of a dozen Republicans seeking the seat of retiring seven-term Sen. Orrin Hatch — on delegates’ dislike of candidates like him who hedge their convention bids by also gathering signatures to ensure at least a place on the primary ballot.
Romney collected more than 28,000 signatures and was the only Senate candidate to do so.
Conservatives have for several years fought in court and in the Legislature to overturn the state law allowing signature gathering, seeing it as weakening the power of the convention and its delegates.