First Bob Bennett, Next Orrin Hatch ?
It’s two years before six-term Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has to worry about re-election, but there are already signs that he could face the same fate has his soon-t0-be-former colleague Bob Bennett:
Sen. Orrin Hatch’s expected bid for a seventh term won’t happen until 2012 — a lifetime away in political terms. But while it’s impossible to predict the level of anti-establishment fervor or the staying power of forces like the tea party movement two years from now, there are plentiful telltale signs that Hatch may have real reason to start worrying.
Roughly half of Utah voters would vote for someone other than Hatch if he were up for reelection this year, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released Tuesday and commissioned by the Salt Lake Tribune.
And the same sentiment was easy to find at this year’s convention. Many of the same delegates who helped bring down Bennett signaled that Hatch could encounter similar problems with grass-roots conservatives who view any break from ideological purity as a betrayal of the cause.
“He’s toast,” chimed in delegate Saima Leon, when she overheard a reporter inquiring about Hatch’s political vulnerability.
An institutionalist who has deep respect for the traditions of the Senate, Hatch has unquestionably compiled a conservative record by most Washington standards: He’s led the charge to restrict class action and medical malpractice lawsuits, supported a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage and sponsored a bill to make it easier to carry handguns in the nation’s capital.
But he also has a bipartisan streak that sits uneasily with the hard-core activists who make up Utah’s delegate pool.
Bipartisanship, of course, seemed to be one of the things that helped bring Bennett down, especially his involvement in crafting an alternative health care plan last year, but there are other problems in Hatch’s record for some conservatives:
[W]hile Bennett got lambasted for his support for the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout, Hatch cast the same vote and then went on to vote “present” on the second, $350 billion TARP installment.
“Orrin had a chance to vote against it. Bob Bennett changed his mind. After all the problems came out, he still didn’t vote against it,” said a former Hatch campaign worker who did not want to be identified because he’s working for another Senate candidate this cycle.
According to a compilation of the anti-tax Club for Growth’s yearly scorecards between 2005 and 2008, Hatch earns a lower ranking than Bennett. While the group said it’s not yet taking any position on 2012 races, spokesman Michael Connolly noted, “Hatch has been, in aggregate, worse than Bennett on our scorecard. He’s lucky to be running in 2012 and not 2010.”
For Utah delegate Leon, it’s the way Hatch handled the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor that gets her blood boiling. She accused Hatch of capitulating to the Democrats instead of fighting against “a racist” nominee last summer.
“He has been very passive. He allowed Sotomayor’s nomination to go through with no opposition, and she belongs to a racist group. La Raza means “the race,” and how [did] we allow a nominee to the Supreme Court to get through on that?” Leon said. “The Democrats, whenever a Republican president nominates somebody, they fight all-out. Hatch did nothing. … That’s why I’m going to be voting and doing everything in my power to get Hatch out next.”
Hatch voted against Sotomayor’s confirmation last year, but, of course, Leon obviously wanted him to do something else. What that something else would have been is unclear, especially since, at that point, a filibuster would have been pointless because the GOP lacked the votes to sustain it. People like him seem to be looking for a kind of fire-and-brimstone conservatism that would rally the troops, but accomplish very little else.
Orrin Hatch has been in office since before Jimmy Carter was inaugurated as the 39th President of the United States, and as someone who has long supported a term limits Amendment to the Constitution, I don’t necessarily object to the idea of getting rid of someone who has been in office longer than those graduating college this year have been alive. However, it’s worth noting that Bennett was ousted not by the voters of Utah, but by a convention attended by at most a few thousand people, and the same thing could happen to Hatch.
A quest for ideological purity, led as it is in this case by a small and potentially unrepresentative cadre of activists, isn’t necessarily health for a party that aspires to win on the national level.