Former Utah state Sen. Dan Liljenquist announced today that he is challenging Sen. Orrin Hatch at the state Republican convention in April.
“It’s time for a new generation of leaders to step up and take on the new challenges of today,” Liljenquist says in a 43-second announcement video posted to his campaign website. “It’s time for us to live within our means as a country and to balance our budget. It’s time to tackle the entitlement spending that threatens us all. And it’s time to return to the conservative principles that make this country great.”
Liljenquist is the first major opponent to enter the race against Hatch and has the kind of tea party support that led to the defeat of former Sen. Bob Bennett at the 2010 state GOP convention.
National conservative groups including FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth have been searching for a Hatch opponent ever since Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), once thought to be a major threat to Hatch, announced in August that he was running for re-election to his House seat. Neither group has endorsed Liljenquist yet.
“We’ve been campaigning against Hatch for months, and he’s the first alternative in the race,” FreedomWorks official Max Pappas said. “We’re excited about him, and our huge network of activists across Utah are excited about him.”
Pappas said the group would discuss a potential endorsement with its grass-roots supporters in the state.
Hatch will be more difficult to defeat than Bennett, who did not see the challenge from now-Sen. Mike Lee and 2010 runner-up Tim Bridgewater coming soon enough. Hatch’s campaign has been working since 2010 to prepare for a competitive convention challenge, including recruiting activists to run in the 1,850 local caucuses in March to be one of some 3,500 convention delegates.
Liljenquist starts the race at a significant fundraising disadvantage, as Hatch set personal fundraising records last year. The six-term incumbent raised $1.6 million in the third quarter, ending September with $4 million on hand. Fourth-quarter reports are due later this month, and a Hatch campaign spokeswoman said they were still finalizing those.
Liljenquist, who last year was named “public official of the year” by Governing magazine, announced he has hired former Air Force officer Lynn Taylor as his campaign manager and Adrielle Herring Bowler as his grass-roots coordinator. Taylor previously worked on the campaigns of Chaffetz and Lee, and Herring Bowler recently resigned as vice chairwoman of the Utah County GOP.
Liljenquist’s challenge had been expected for some time after going on a Washington, D.C., media blitz in November and resigning from his state Senate seat last month. The Hatch campaign was ready and came out with guns blazing.
“It is perplexing to me why a state Senator who hasn’t even finished his first term of service in the state and running on the platform of entitlement reform would want to challenge Sen. Hatch,” Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen said.
One of Hatch’s main arguments for re-election is that he would take over as chairman of the Finance Committee if Republicans win the majority in November, and Hansen noted that in his extensive statement.
“Dan Liljenquist’s mantra on entitlement reforms would be little more than a flimsy campaign promise made by someone who would be positioned on a committee that has no influence over fiscal policy,” Hansen said. “Why would Utah want to give up its chance to have an immediate voice in setting the agenda to deal with the most pressing issues of our time?”
The convention, which usually attracts the more conservative wing of the state party, requires a 60 percent take of the convention vote to secure the nomination. Otherwise the top two finishers advance to a primary, where Hatch would have the advantages of a broader party electorate and name identification.