Hatch Thwarts Tea Party-Backed Challenge in Utah Primary

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah defeated a Tea Party-backed challenger in yesterday’s Republican primary, clearing the way for winning a seventh term in November’s election.

Hatch won 66.6 percent of the vote to 33.4 percent for former state senator Dan Liljenquist, with 98 percent of precincts reporting, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

“My message was heard loud and clear and I am grateful that my fellow Utahns have entrusted me once again to be the Republican nominee for this important office,” Hatch said in a statement.

In heavily Republican Utah, Hatch’s primary victory makes him the favorite in the general election contest against Democrat Scott Howell. Hatch, the top Republican on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, won re-election in 2006 with 62.6 percent of the vote.

Liljenquist’s challenge sought to repeat the success that the Tea Party movement, which favors smaller government, has had against two other veteran Republican senators.

Bennett’s Loss

Utah Republican Robert Bennett’s bid for a fourth Senate term in 2010 was derailed at the state party’s nominating convention and Tea Party-backed Mike Lee eventually won the party’s nomination and the seat. This year, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana lost his state’s May 8 Republican primary to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who was supported by Tea Party activists.

“Every race is different,” Lee said today, declining to comment further on the parallels between Hatch’s race and his contest two years ago. “It was decisive victory, brought about by hard work, leadership and there are a lot of constituents grateful to him for his work.”

FreedomWorks, which has helped foster the Tea Party movement, targeted Hatch for defeat in part because he supported the 2008 bank bailout.

Spurred in part by Bennett’s defeat, the 78-year-old Hatch focused on burnishing his credentials among Tea Party activists in his state, including meeting with them at picnics.

At Utah’s Republican Party nominating convention on April 21, he fell just 32 votes short of the attaining the 60 percent support he needed to avoid a primary challenge. His showing, though, established him as the clear favorite in the contest.

Anticipating a Hatch primary victory, Senator John Cornyn, the Texas Republican who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters earlier yesterday that his colleagues efforts illustrated “the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.”

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