Orrin Hatch to Face Primary Challenge

Utah's senior Senator Orrin Hatch won't be sailing to a seventh and final term without first facing a primary challenge after the state's Republicans on Saturday denied him the nomination by the narrowest of margins.

Hatch, 78, will now face off against former Utah State Sen. Dan Liljenquist, 37, in a primary battle on June 26.

At Utah's state Republican convention Saturday a slate of 10 GOP candidates in the senate race faced off. To avoid a primary battle and coast straight to his party's nomination, Hatch would have had to receive 60 percent of the vote from the 4,000 delegates selected to attend the convention.

Candidates went through two rounds of voting. Hatch received 57 percent of the vote in the first round, while Liljenquist got 28 percent. The candidates who placed in the bottom eight were eliminated, and Hatch and Liljenquist competed head to head in a second round. Hatch received 59 percent of the vote in this round-just shy of that magic 60 percent. Liljenquist received 41 percent, seemingly picking up support from backers of Hatch's other opponents.

Hatch, who has served in the Senate for 34 years, had been preparing for this battle for the past two years, after his colleague Bob Bennett, a fellow veteran of Congress, was eliminated from his Senate battle at the state's Republican convention in 2010.

Hatch, who is the 24th longest-serving senator in US history, has spent $5 million in his primary battle, and he still has $3 million in his war chest.

Hatch's strong fundraising thus far, along with his strong performance at the convention, bode well for the senator, who has had a history of reaching across the aisle. Hatch may also benefit from a larger electorate participating in the June 26 Republican primary. Fellow Mormon Mitt Romney is running in the GOP primary in this most Mormon of states and turnout is expected to be large.