Orrin Hatch To Face Primary In Utah

Six-term Republican Senator Orrin Hatch fell just 50 votes short of preventing a primary for the Republican nomination for Senate:

SANDY, Utah — Senator Orrin G. Hatch survived a test from nine challengers at the Republican Party state convention on Saturday, winning a majority of the votes but failing just short of the margin needed to avoid a primary election against a well-known and established opponent.

In the first round of voting, on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Hatch got just over 57 percent of the delegate support — first place, but not enough to secure the nomination outright, which required 60 percent. A businessman and former state senator, Dan Liljenquist, got about 28 percent of the vote in the first round.

A second round of voting to decide between Mr. Hatch and Mr. Liljenquist also failed to resolve the issue. Mr. Hatch got just over 59 percent the second time, thus forcing a primary election between him and Mr. Liljenquist. In heavily Republican Utah, the Republican nomination effectively decides the election.

“No one senator is too big to fail,” Mr. Liljenquist told the nearly 4,000 delegates who met in a convention hall here in this suburb of Salt Lake City, urging them to reject Mr. Hatch.

Mr. Hatch, a six-term veteran of the United States Senate, fired back, speaking last before the voting began. He said that experience and “the respect of both sides,” is what gets things done in Washington, not wild claims and promises.

“I’m a tough old bird,” he said. “I’ve never felt more eager, more excited, or more energized.” During his second speech, before the second round of voting, his voice cracked with emotion, “I need you,” he told the delegates.

Mr. Hatch, 78, fought for months to avoid facing the fate of a former Senate colleague and Utah Republican political powerhouse, Robert F. Bennett, who was tossed out by Republican delegates at their state convention in 2010. His seat is now held by Senator Mike Lee, a Republican who had strong Tea Party support.

In an effort to avoid a similar outcome, Hatch supporters mapped the state and dispatched Mr. Hatch himself to town halls and living rooms from the rural southern counties to urban Salt Lake City, blanketing delegates and would-be delegates with telephone calls. The pitch was framed around seniority in the Senate — that Mr. Hatch, as ranking Republican on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, would become chairman if Republicans gained control of the Senate.

The general consensus seems to be that Hatch is a very strong favorite in the primary. Indeed, it was widely accepted in 2010 that Bob Bennett would likely still be in the Senate if he’d managed to do well enough in the State GOP Convention two years ago to force a primary. The primary is on June 26th, though, so I suppose it’s possible anything could happen but if Hatch was able to repair his image among Utah Republicans well enough that he pretty much smashed Lilienquist in both rounds of balloting, something tells me that he’ll be a tough campaigner to and that he’ll pull off a victory in the end. In all honesty, the best shot that Hatch’s opponents had was to knock him off at the convention stage like they did with Bennett. Trying to pull off a victory in a primary is going to be mighty difficult indeed.

Of course, there’s also the whole odd sight of people saying that Orrin Freaking Hatch is a “Republican In Name Only,” but that’s just another example of the oddness that’s been going on in the Republican Party of late.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Doubter4444 says:

    When Orrin Hatch is not conservative enough, or a “reliable” enough conservative, then it’s got to be clear to anyone without political blindness that so called ideological purity is divorced from governing, full stop.
    Serious question to you though, how far right does the Republican party need to go before you can no longer support it?
    I’m seriously interested, because you are a smart, articulate person, versed in politics and political science with an interest in government and in making the country stronger.

    When does this right ward tilt become more destructive that Democratic positions?
    Will it ever be in your opinion?
    I’m not saying you should change or anything like that – I’m asking you, as a strongly self identified non-democrat where, if there is one, the line is crossed from people you think can help make the country stronger and better equipped to handle the world as it is, and those who are fundamentally unserious about governing?

  2. Brett says:

    I’m a Utahn, and what the local papers have been saying is that people have been getting more skittish about knocking off Hatch. Hell, I’m in that position as well – I’m a liberal Democrat, but I’m still wary of having two freshman senators in Congress. What if base closures came up again, and neither of them had the clout to protect Hill Air Force base?

  3. Hey Norm says:

    If Hatch can’t pass the tea stain purity test how in the heck does Romney get elected???

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    So how much money will Dick Enron Armee spend to defeat him? Is it any wonder that Hatch despises this a-hole?

  5. al-Ameda says:

    Hatch has always been a hack. That’s no big loss … to anyone.

    I think it was far more revealing that Robert Bennett, an intelligent and reliable conservative, was ousted by Tea Party morons. Bennett supported gun rights and strict immigration controls, problem was he supported insurance mandate legislation, although he voted against Obama’s ACA. This is all in service of ideological purity.

    Hatch is unimportant.

  6. Rick Almeida says:

    …but that’s just another example of the oddness that’s been going on in the Republican Party of late.

    “Oddness” is such a peculiar choice of words.

  7. Herb says:

    Hatch on the Tea Party:

    “These people are not conservatives. They’re not Republicans. They’re radical libertarians and I’m doggone offended by it.”

    A pretty astute observation, I’d say.