Across the country, Republicans are fighting off tea party threats while Democrats are dragged down by anti-incumbent sentiment and a president who remains unpopular in many competitive states.
But on Tuesday, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is expected to defy those trends and win re-election handily, with experience and a novice challenger helping to boost his odds. Similarly, Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel certainly has years of congressional service on his side--41 to be exact--and faces lesser-known opponents, but redistricting changes could thwart the Congressman's chances of winning.
In Utah, Hatch faces a primary challenge from former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who has amassed tea party support, an endorsement from Rick Santorum and boasts other high-profile backing. Hatch's detractors view him as an establishment figure who has slipped into moderate territory after 35 years in office. That line of criticism is not uncommon in a tea party vs. incumbent Republican primary, such as in the race that led to Sen. Dick Lugar's loss to tea partier Richard Mourdock in Indiana. But the same fate doesn't seem likely to befall Hatch.
Even though Liljenquist's arguments and conservative ideology have enjoyed wide appeal, Hatch is likely to win due to several factors: the senator is much better funded than his challenger; Hatch remains well-known throughout every corner of the state; and Hatch's challenger, a one-term state senator, has limited experience and pull statewide. The Republican incumbent has maintained support in the face of a potentially treacherous tea party challenge, receiving endorsements from tea partiers such as Sarah Palin, mainstream Republicans such as Mitt Romney and conservatives such as the American Conservative Union.
An independent public poll released Saturday by Deseret News/KSL-TV found Hatch leading Liljenquist among registered voters by 60 to 32 percent. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. And winning the Republican nomination in Utah virtually guarantees the party a victory in November, given the conservative nature of the state.
Hatch has been arguing that his experience, seniority and potential chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee are the main reasons why voters should send him back to Congress, arguments similar to those being made by House veteran Rangel, 82, in New York.
Rangel's four decades of service have led to several high-profile endorsements for his re-election race, including popular Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Ed Koch, borough presidents, unions, House colleagues and other prolific New York politicians.
That support, combined with Rangel's experience, well-versed campaign and name recognition, is pushing the incumbent to the top of the Bronx-area 13th District Democratic primary.