Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch Forced Into Primary FightApril 21, 2012
From: The Wall Street Journal
By: NAFTALI BENDAVID
Beating back a challenge from tea party activists, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah easily qualified for the Republican primary ballot in his quest for a seventh Senate term Saturday, but he fell just short of winning the GOP nomination outright.
Tough challenges to Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar will signal whether tea-party activists and their allies still have the power they wielded in 2010. Naftali Bendavid has details on The News Hub. Photo: Reuters.
Mr. Hatch needed support from 60% of delegates at a state GOP convention to dispatch his nearest rival, former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, and to advance to the nomination without the need for a primary. He got 59% on the second ballot.
As a result, Messrs. Hatch and Liljenquist will face off in the June 26 primary, with the winner all but certain to claim the seat in heavily Republican Utah.
“Today was a good win for me and for my campaign,” Mr. Hatch said after the vote. “We have come a long way in a short period of time. I am prepared and energized for the battle ahead.”
In the first round, Mr. Hatch received 57% of the vote and Mr. Liljenquist 28%, according to the Associated Press. In the second round, Mr. Hatch improved to 59.19, to 40.8% for Mr. Liljenquist, leaving the senator barely short of clinching the nomination.
Mr. Hatch had to win 40% of the votes in order to qualify for the June 26 Republican primary, a threshold he surpassed easily after months of work to ensure that many of the 4,000 convention delegates would support him.
Despite falling short in his bid for an outright victory, Mr. Hatch heads into the primary with a distinct advantage, with an organization and funding that is likely to far outstrip those of Mr. Liljenquist.
Mr. Hatch’s vote total Saturday marked a stark contrast with the fate of his erstwhile Utah Republican colleague, former Sen. Robert Bennett. Mr. Bennett, facing a rebellion from activists upset at his vote for a bank bailout and other measures, failed to win 40% of delegates at the 2010 convention—one of the tea party movement’s biggest wins that year.
Mr. Bennett was disqualified from the primary that year, and Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) went on to win the contest. He is now Utah’s junior senator.
Mr. Hatch took Mr. Bennett’s defeat as a cautionary tale and wasted little time ensuring he would avoid the same fate. His campaign has spent two years recruiting and advocating for friendly delegates.
The senator also trained his fire on FreedomWorks, the small-government, conservative organization that organized opposition to the senator. FreedomWorks attacked Mr. Hatch for voting for the bank bailout, a children’s health program, debt limit increases, and other measures the group considers examples of big-government spending.
Mr. Hatch said that in characterizing him as anything but a bedrock conservative, the group was distorting his record. FreedomWorks leaders said the senator was mad at them for telling the truth.
FreedomWorks called the outcome “a historic upset” and described Mr. Liljenquist as “an energetic, conservative underdog.”
“Utahns have spoken today, and their message is clear: it’s time for a change,” said Russ Walker, national political director for FreedomWorks for America, in a written statement.
By this week, even Mr. Hatch’s rivals acknowledged he would easily pass the 40% threshold, and the only question was whether he would exceed 60%. Mr. Hatch’s campaign had released a poll suggesting he had the support of 63% of the delegates, but delegates often make up their minds at the last moment, perhaps swayed by the candidates’ speeches.
One question is whether Mr. Hatch’s performance signals that tea party-movement and conservative rebels will have a tougher time this year knocking off GOP establishment picks. In 2010, such activists defeated not only Mr. Bennett but also such GOP leaders as Charlie Crist in Florida and Sue Lowden in Nevada, nominating more vocal conservatives in those Senate races.
Some tea party-aligned candidates, such as Florida’s Marco Rubio, went on to win seats in the Senate, while others, including Nevada’s Sharron Angle, ended up losing to Democrats.
A key test will come on May 8, when Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) faces off in a primary against Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who is running with tea party support.