Former Utah attorney general Paul Van Dam, who has been out of the political limelight for the past decade, announced Friday that he will run against U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett in 2004.
Van Dam is the only Democrat thus far to challenge the two-term Republican for a Senate seat no Democrat has won in Utah since 1970.
What made Van Dam decide to get back into politics? "In two words: George Bush," said Van Dam in a phone interview on his way to Ephraim, where he will meet with county Democratic leaders Saturday.
"I became more and more alarmed about the situation in our country," Van Dam said. "I was particularly upset when we went to war with Iraq. And practically everything since then has added to my alarm. . . . Frankly, alienating the world is not my idea of how you protect yourself against terrorists."
Van Dam is one of only two Democrats to win a statewide election since Gov. Scott Matheson's victory in 1984. Van Dam was also elected Salt Lake County attorney. "Both offices I've run for I wasn't supposed to win but I did. So those were positive and reinforcing experiences," Van Dam said.
He lists as his accomplishments in public office the establishment of the first consumer fraud unit in Utah and his successful prosecution of murderer Ted Bundy.
After serving as the state's attorney general, Van Dam was an attorney in private practice. Then, in 1999, at the age of 61, he decided to retire, travel the world and ride his bike. In 2000, at the 45th reunion of the East High class of 1955, Van Dam re-met former classmate Mary Dawn Bailey. They plan to marry "by the end of the month," he said, and live in a condo in the Avenues. Next month, Van Dam will participate in the mountain bike competition in the Senior Olympics in St. George. In the meantime, he'll be meeting with Democratic Party leaders throughout the state.
"Pure partisan politics in Washington has paralyzed Congress' ability to enact effective legislation for the American people," Van Dam said in a press release announcing his Senate bid. "The best ideas must be embraced no matter what party or group represents them. Additionally, effectively stimulating our economy and job creation must be an overriding priority."
Bush's "no child left behind" education policy also concerns him, he said. Education should be a local concern, not increasingly federally run — especially without being adequately funded, he said. "If you only fund 60 percent of the program, you're leaving 40 percent behind to begin with."