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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Senator Orrin Hatch speaks at the Utah Republican Party 2012 nominating convention at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy on April 21, 2012. With 59.19 percent of the vote, Hatch fell just shy of winning the Republican nomination outright at the state GOP convention. Delegates gave Dan Liljenquist 40.81 percent of the vote in the second round of balloting.

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert finally made an endorsement in the Republican U.S. Senate primary Wednesday, choosing Sen. Orrin Hatch over former state lawmaker Dan Liljenquist.

Herbert said in a statement released by the Hatch campaign that the six-term senator's "experience and seniority in the U.S. Senate will be invaluable" in the state's efforts to expand the economy, support Hill Air Force Base, defend access to natural resources and promote "sensible" health care reform.

The governor said he considers Liljenquist "a bright talent and my friend" but he will be voting for Hatch. "Sen. Hatch's tireless work ethic, grounded in conservative Utah values and matched by his keen understanding of critical issues, makes him the best choice for Utah," he said.

Hatch said the governor "has been a long time ally in the fight for limited government and constitutional principles" and that he looks forward to their "continued efforts to ensure that the state of Utah, not Washington, decides what is best for its citizens."

Liljenquist spokeswoman Holly Richardson said the endorsement was anticipated, noting that Hatch and Herbert "have been friends longer than Dan has been alive." She said the Liljenquist campaign will continue "to work to take our message to the people of Utah."

Herbert, who was able to avoid being pushed into a primary election by defeating his intraparty challengers at the state GOP convention in April, had been reluctant to endorse in the Senate race.

The governor said shortly after the convention that voters faced a tough decision, describing the race as "about seniority, whether you think seniority is an important thing for the state of Utah ... versus a new set of eyes and ears of a very talented guy."

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