Tea Party activists in and out of Utah have targeted six-term Senator Orrin Hatch for a primary challenge, hoping to replicate their 2010 success against his former colleague Bob Bennett. Bennett got caught by surprise at the caucuses, but Hatch didn’t make that mistake, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:
“I’ve been told that things went fairly well. Actually I’ve been told that things went really well, but who knows,” Hatch told The Tribune. “I’m a tough old bird and nobody is going to push me around without a fight.”
Republican caucus-goers elected 4,000 state delegates, who will gather April 21 to vote on the party’s nominee.
Dan Liljenquist, a former state senator and Hatch’s leading rival among the 10 GOP challengers, lost the battle in his own Bountiful Precinct 12, with Hatch sweeping all three delegates available there.
Slightly more than half of the crowd supported Hatch — and rules required all delegates to eventually win by a majority through numerous rounds of elimination. Hatch supporters used their slight majority to methodically eliminate pro-Liljenquist candidates, as Liljenquist merely shook his head.
Liljenquist even lost the last available delegate on a 69-68 vote.
Matt Lewis says that FreedomWorks, the Tea Party group that organized against Hatch, will wind up looking rather foolish:
One year ago yesterday, I wrote a column titled: “Orrin Hatch: 5 Reasons He Will Be Re-Elected.”
The third reason on my list was this: “Hatch’s team understands the caucus process.” …
It was so bad that his opponent, Dan Liljenquist, even lost his own precinct.
Count me among the skeptics for the anti-Hatch effort, too. Hatch got a 100% rating from the ACU in 2011 — admittedly, however, after seeing Bennett get unseated in 2010. In 2008, though, Hatch got an 80%, better than Lamar Alexander (72%), John Cornyn (79%), and much better than Thad Cochran’s 68%. In 2010, Hatch got 100% again. The NTU, which sticks more to fiscal issues, gives Hatch As and Bs for all but two years out of the last 20. Normally, we’d reward that kind of growth as an officeholder, and it raises questions about why FreedomWorks and others went after Hatch rather than putting their time and effort into a less-conservative Republican — perhaps by finding a good alternative to Olympia Snowe, for example — or unseating a Democrat.
Objecting to Hatch on the basis of his length of service might be valid, but politicians with that kind of survival rate don’t get caught by surprise often. Hatch may not be out of the woods yet, but he just delivered a lesson in retail politicking that grassroots activists need to learn well and quickly. First among those might be choosing targets wisely.