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Once Endangered, Orrin Hatch Battles Back in Utah

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Insiders said a good portion of the 4,000 delegates elected Thursday are likely to vote for Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch at next month’s state GOP convention.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is expected to emerge from next month’s state party convention either with the nomination in hand or in a stronger primary position than most imagined just a few weeks ago.

This is a survival story, and overwhelming anecdotal evidence passed on by party insiders indicates the six-term incumbent reaped the benefits of unprecedented turnout at the 2,000 or so precinct caucuses held Thursday in classrooms and community spaces across the state.

Although exact numbers were not available, insiders said a good portion of the 4,000 delegates elected are likely to vote for Hatch at the convention, meaning, at the very least, he will survive until the June 26 primary. By Monday, the Hatch campaign was still poring over the list of delegates.

“As the information rolls in, it is looking more and more like Sen. Hatch will make it out of the convention,” Hatch spokeswoman Evelyn Call said. “The goal has always been to avoid a primary, and we are feeling more confident that achieving 60 percent of the state delegate votes at the state convention is in the realm of possibility.”

The convention delegate universe is often far more conservative than the primary electorate, putting the six-term incumbent with a lifetime rating of
90 percent with the American Conservative Union — but a penchant for deal-making — in potential trouble. Although Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Hatch’s top possible opponent, opted against running, former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist and state Rep. Chris Herrod made sure Hatch did not have a free ride to a seventh term.

However, fortunately for Hatch, several factors led this year’s caucuses to have an electorate that more closely resembled a primary.

Hatch’s campaign essentially began its work two years ago after hostile GOP activists happily dismissed Hatch’s former colleague Sen. Bob Bennett at the 2010 state party convention. Two others, including now-Sen. Mike Lee, emerged from the convention to face off in the primary.

“A surprise can really only happen once, and Bennett unfortunately was first in line,” said a Washington, D.C., lobbyist with Utah clients.

Hatch’s campaign was open from the beginning about its plan to elect its own slate of delegates and oust all others. It was an aggressive move that already put him ahead of the game relative to the surprise awaiting Bennett at the convention.

“The level of effort to get the regular Republican voter to their caucuses ... and to stack those caucuses with Hatch people had never been equaled to this year’s effort,” said Jeff Hartley, a lobbyist and former Utah GOP executive director. “The money spent not only by Hatch but also by the state party is unprecedented, and it seemed to have worked.”

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