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Panel: Delegates wanted to leave Senator Orrin Hatch's fate up to voters

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 7:56 p.m. MDT

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch is interviewed in KSL studios Friday, March 23, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch was forced into a primary race at last weekend's state GOP convention because delegates wanted to leave his fate up to voters, members of the Deseret News/KSL-TV delegate panel said.

"The Hatch primary seems to have been a willful act by some who didn't feel comfortable making the final decision and wanted to defer the decision to the voters at large," Cedar Hills Republican delegate Daryl Acumen said.

The Deseret News and KSL selected and assembled the team of eight delegates to weigh-in on each race and the issues of greatest concern both prior to the state convention and following its conclusion.

Acumen, one of three selected for the panel who has been a delegate before, said some delegates at the Saturday GOP convention apparently changed their minds about voting for Hatch at the last minute.

"Several I talked to actually switched their votes away from Hatch at the end simply to make a primary more probable because they didn't think they should have the final say," Acumen, a digital analyst, said. 

Hatch could have won over the less than 20 more delegates he needed to avoid a primary with former state lawmaker Dan Liljenquist if he'd acknowledged their concerns, said another panelist, Kaysville City Councilman Gil Miller.

Miller said he and other delegates believe Hatch has let them down in recent years. "So if you were on the fence, Dan caught you as you fell off," Miller said of Liljenquist. "If Hatch had just said, 'I know I've let some of you down in the past,'" he could have been nominated.

Instead, Hatch fell less than 1 percentage point short of the 60 percent candidates needed to advance directly to the general election. Miller said some delegates "simply wanted the primary voters to decide Hatch's future" in the June 26 run-off election.

Panelist Judy Moore, a stay-at-home mom from Taylorsville, said, "People are frustrated that (Hatch) has been in office for so long." She said she's "glad it's going to a primary because I think most Republicans want a say in this race."

Democrat Marla Howard said Hatch faces his first primary election in 36 years because Utahns "are disappointed in the direction of this country" and see Hatch as a significant contributor to the nation's debt crisis, war and other issues.

"Many are tired of the status quo and did what they could," she said. "They got involved and voiced their opinion."

Howard said Democratic delegates chose former state lawmaker Scott Howell as the party's U.S. Senate nominee over XMission founder Pete Ashdown because they "saw a strong contender and went that direction."

4th Congressional District

GOP delegates chose Sarasota Springs Mayor Mia Love as their nominee in the state's newest Congressional district, after Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff referred to Love as a "novelty" while touting former state lawmaker Carl Wimmer.

Shurtleff's characterization of Love turned off members of the delegate panel.

Kristen Price, a West Jordan real estate agent, said the "offensive" remark influenced the second round of voting between Love and Wimmer. "I think that comment really hurt Mr. Wimmer," she said.

But Price, who lives in the 4th District, said she isn't sure Wimmer could have forced a primary because of the way Love rallied the delegates and convinced them she is uniquely qualified to beat Rep. Jim Matheson. "She really moved the crowd," she said.

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