Utah's senior Senator Orrin Hatch is the latest in a string of longtime Congress members in the Republican Party to face a primary challenge from a Tea Party challenger.
Hatch, 78, will battle former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist today for their party's nomination for Senate, and while the primary contest feels familiar in its establishment vs. Tea Party match-up, the outcome for Hatch will likely be much more favorable than it was for some of his Senate colleagues.
Hatch has had two years to prepare for this re-election campaign for what he has said will be his last term in the Senate. The six-term incumbent watched his long-time colleague, Bob Bennett, get voted out of the running for the party's Senate nomination at the state's Republican convention in 2010 in favor of two younger Tea Party challengers. Hatch was proactive in making sure he did not wind up in the same scenario.
Hatch has spent upwards of $10 million on his race-$5 million leading up to Utah's state Republican convention in April, where 10 candidates, including Hatch, were whittled down to the top two finishers through multiple rounds of voting. Hatch also called in the big guns so to speak for the event-Mitt Romney, who is very popular in the state, cut a spot for Hatch.
In order to avoid this primary battle Hatch would have had to receive the support of 60 percent of the convention's delegates. Hatch received 59 percent of the support- Liljenquist clinched 41 percent, narrowly forcing the contest.
Liljenquist was not able to capitalize on his relatively strong performance at the convention, it seems. He was outspent by Hatch by a margin of more than 10 to 1. His fundraising lagged far behind Hatch's as well- with Hatch raising almost $10 million and Liljenquist raising almost $800,000, including $400,000 from Liljenquist himself, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Liljenquist has had a great deal of financial support from the Tea Party-affiliated group FreedomWorks, which has spent close to $1 million supporting Liljenquist and opposing Hatch, according to FEC disclosures. However, even with the group's strong fiscal involvement, Liljenquist couldn't compete monetarily.
In addition his money advantage, Hatch scored big endorsements from figures across the Republican Party, from Tea Party to establishment. He had the backing of Romney, the importance of which should not be underestimated in Utah, and he was endorsed by Sarah Palin. Rick Santorum endorsed Liljenquist in June, but the support came late in the contest.
Polling shows Hatch with a strong lead going into today's primary. Utah is traditionally the reddest of states, so whichever candidate wins the GOP nomination is expected to win the Senate seat in November.
Today marks the official close of the 2012 GOP presidential primary. Utah is the last state on the calendar, where the final 40 delegates out of the total 2,286 doled out this cycle will be allocated to Mitt Romney.