Utah’s Hatch Forced Into Republican Primary in June

Utah’s Hatch Forced Into Republican Primary With State Senator
Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, heads to a weekly policy meeting at the Capitol. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch failed to win the required majority of votes at the state Republican convention yesterday, forcing him into a June 26 primary election against state Senator Dan Liljenquist.

Hatch won 59.2 percent of the 3,902 delegate votes cast at the state Republican convention in Sandy, Utah, less than the 60 percent needed to win the nomination outright, according to the state Republican Party. Liljenquist, who appealed to Tea Party activists resolved to retire Hatch, got 40.8 percent of the convention vote.

“This is a Republican civil war and the Democrats are on the sidelines,” Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the Rothenberg Political Report said in a telephone interview. Whoever wins the Utah primary is sure to be elected to the Senate, Gonzales said. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, got 34 percent of Utah’s vote in the 2008 election.

Conservative groups may mount a larger campaign against Hatch, including television advertising because “it’s going to be a much larger electorate in the primary than the 4,000 delegates at the convention,” Gonzales said.

Six-Term Senator

The 78-year-old Hatch, a six-term senator, was targeted by the group FreedomWorks, which favors smaller government and has helped foster the Tea Party movement. FreedomWorks opposes Hatch because he supported the 2008 bank bailout and a pathway to citizenship for some children of illegal immigrants. Hatch also is opposed because of his work with the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts to create a children’s health program that expanded Medicaid.

FreedomWorks has spent more than $691,000 on television advertising, grassroots outreach and glossy brochures seeking to defeat Hatch. Founded by former Republican House Majority Leader Richard Armey of Texas, FreedomWorks operates a super-PAC, which raises unlimited amounts for federal elections, and has taken in $3.5 million for this year’s elections.

Former Utah Senator Robert Bennett was toppled at the 2010 state convention because he didn’t win enough votes to make the ballot for a two-candidate primary race. Republican Mike Lee, backed by the Tea Party, later won Bennett’s seat.

Courting Tea Party

Hatch has met with Utah Tea Party activists at picnics and town hall meetings, and in private discussions. In the weeks before the convention, Hatch attended most of 29 planned Republican county meetings and spoke with the vast majority of the delegates, said Evelyn Call, his campaign spokeswoman. His campaign has spent $264,030 on TV ads on Utah network broadcast stations by April 16, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.

First elected in 1976, Hatch is in line to be chairman of the Senate Finance Committee if his party wins control of that chamber of Congress in the November elections. He has said he’ll try to dismantle and reshape Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul and to rewrite the tax code.

Republicans now control 47 of the chamber’s 100 seats.