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Former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett now dealing with stroke

SALT LAKE CITY — Already suffering from pancreatic cancer, former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett had a stroke last week that paralyzed the left side of his body.

The three-term Republican senator also learned a month or so ago that the cancer spread to his stomach and near his liver.

"I've been better," the 82-year-old Bennett said Thursday in a telephone interview from his home in Arlington, Virginia. "I had a stroke and that's worse than the cancer right now."

He said he can't stand up and he can't swallow. He has been getting hospice care at home since being released from the hospital. His wife, Joyce, has been at his side and all six of his children have visited him since the stroke April 11.

Bennett started treatment for pancreatic cancer in February 2015 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. His doctor found a tumor on his pancreas after treating him for shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash.

Doctors were hopeful then that radiation and chemotherapy would shrink the tumor enough to operate, but he never underwent surgery.

His son, Jim Bennett, said his father is mentally sharp and as insightful as he's ever been, though a little frustrated about not being able to always speak clearly.

Bennett is keeping an eye on the Republican presidential race and said he's "terribly disappointed" in the tone of the campaign. He was even thinking about it right after his stroke.

"In the hospital he said, 'I want to go to every Muslim and say thank you for being in our country, and I want to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump,'" Jim Bennett said.

"There's a lot of Muslims here in this area. I'm glad they're here," the former senator said, describing them as "wonderful."

Bennett said he supports Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president. "He knows what he's doing," he said, though he conceded Kasich probably won't win the GOP nomination. "We'll see."

A moderate Republican, Bennett served as Utah's junior senator alongside seven-term Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch for 18 years. In 2010, Utah Republican Party delegates ousted Bennett in favor of tea party candidate Mike Lee, who is seeking a second term in the Senate.

After leaving office, he became chairman of the Bennett Group, a political and business consulting firm in Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City. He said Thursday he continues to do some consulting over the telephone.

His cancer treatment scuttled plans to sell his Virginia house and move to Utah. He found staying in the Washington, D.C. area and receiving treatment from Johns Hopkins less disruptive.

Bennett was in Utah in January to be inducted into the Hinckley Institute of Politics Hall of Fame at the University of Utah.

Bennett said he hasn't paid much attention to Utah politics, but he and his son have talked about SB54, the controversial state election law that the Utah Republican Party unsuccessfully tried to get overturned in court.

His advice to the party? "Obey the law."

Just before his stroke, Bennett spoke at an LDS Church fireside about his book, "Leap of Faith: Confronting the Origins of the Book of Mormon," published in 2009.

"He essentially delivered a very powerful address that lasted for an hour and demonstrated that he is as engaged in issues of faith as well as issues of politics. His body isn't cooperating, but his mind isn't slowing down," Jim Bennett said.

Bennett has heard from some close friends and colleagues since his stroke.

Hatch visited Bennett on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Mitt Romney have sent messages.

Jim Bennett said his father can't have lots of visitors, but cards, letters and email are welcome. He said Bennett is very appreciative of any correspondence.

"His emotions are very close to the surface," the younger Bennett said.


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