Variety of factors aid Sen. Orrin Hatch in Utah primary as national news organizations predict win

Published: Tuesday, June 26 2012 3:44 p.m. MDT

Sen. Orrin Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen says Mitt Romney wants Hatch to retain his seat in the Senate.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Fading tea party anger, strong organization, more spending and Mitt Romney — the diagnoses differ but the conclusion among national media organizations is the same as they predict a primary win for incumbent Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in Tuesday's election.

Hatch's saving grace, The New York Times posits, is that Utah voters aren't as angry as they were when they booted Sen. Bob Bennett at the 2010 party convention.

"The atmosphere has changed enormously," Bennett said. "There's as strong a pro-incumbent wave in Utah as there was an anti-incumbent wave two years ago. It's a backlash."

While the New York Times suggests that Hatch may halt the tea party wave with a win, he picked up enough endorsements from tea party leaders like Sarah Palin — who called him 'Mr. Balanced Budget for Utah' — that it may be fair to say that he's rolling with the tea party wave instead.

In August 2011, Hatch proclaimed himself a tea party person in the face of a possible challenge from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

"We wouldn't be where we are without them," Hatch said of the tea party. "The fact of the matter is I've been a tea party person I think since before the tea party came into existence. I was one of the earliest supporters of Reagan."

Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin took issue with his description, writing that "Orrin Hatch is the antithesis of the tea party spirit. He is a mascot for big-spending Beltway entrenched incumbency who has consistently joined hands with destructive Democrats."

Tea party supporter or not, Hatch will win "rather handily" thanks to fading voter anger, Republican political consultant LaVarr Webb wrote in the Deseret News.

"We're not seeing the angry, anti-incumbent uprising that occurred in 2010," Webb said. "Republican voters aren't quite ready to turn the old war horse out to pasture. A Hatch win means that it's safe, once again, to be a mainstream Republican in Utah."

In terms of spending, Hatch's primary challenger, former state senator Dan Liljenquist fell far behind, with Hatch raking in $10.5 million from January 2007 to June 2012. Liljenquist raised $778,363 in his election effort, with his personal contributions totaling $400,000.

"Once the April convention fight turned into an extended primary battle, Hatch's millions meant he held a massive advantage getting his message out on TV and in the mail," a National Journal article said. "For the upstart former state senator who needed to raised his name ID in a hurry, running against a multimillion dollar headwind proved to be a very imposing obstacle."

Liljenquist's biggest chance to defeat Hatch came — and went — at the state convention, Kirk Jowers, executive director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, told NPR.

"Once you get to the primary, people know Hatch, they're used to him and Hatch has all the money. It made the numbers game almost impossible for Liljenquist."

With big money comes big organization, which also helped Hatch in his re-election bid, The Washington Post reported. Hatch's campaign included many of Utah's top political consultants and strategists, as well as tea party activists who helped Sen. Mike Lee win in 2010.

"It was an organizational effort beyond anything the state has seen before," Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen said. "Fortunately, we had the resources to pay the costs on that organizational effort."

Hatch also rewrote the book on competing in a state primary convention by recruiting his supporters to become delegates, National Journal suggested. This strategy nearly helped him clinch the nomination two months ago.

Hatch also gained the endorsement of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and if there's one political endorsement that matters in Utah, it's Romney's, the Associated Press said.

When Romney visited Utah on June 8, Hatch greeted him at the airport for a quick appearance in front of the cameras. The brief meeting was intended to send a message, according to Hatch's campaign manager.

"The message was delivered as to who Gov. Romney wants to see elected to the Senate from the state of Utah," Hansen said.

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