Two years after his colleague was ousted at the same event, Sen. Orrin Hatch may not only survive the Utah Republican nominating convention Saturday, he could win the nomination outright.
About 4,000 locally elected delegates will gather at the South Towne Exposition Center in Salt Lake City to decide the GOP nominees or primary participants for four statewide offices and the state’s four Congressional districts. Senate candidate speeches and balloting is tentatively scheduled to begin at 12:50 p.m. EDT.
A candidate can secure the nomination with 60 percent of the delegate vote, otherwise the top-two finishers advance to the June 26 primary. A survey of delegates conducted for the Hatch campaign last week by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research found Hatch taking 63 percent, followed by former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist with 21 percent and state Rep. Chris Herrod with 4 percent.
For the 78-year-old Senator, who has a total of nine challengers, this is the culmination of more than 15 months of strategy preparation and execution led by campaign manager Dave Hansen, who set out to raise record-breaking money and alter the traditionally conservative convention electorate to one more closely resembling a primary electorate.
Hatch, with a record as a bipartisan deal-maker in the Senate, also made sure to highlight his conservative bent on Capitol Hill, as well as his likely chairmanship of the Finance Committee next year should Republicans win the Senate majority.
That overall strategy helped keep stronger competition, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz, out of the race and proved successful at the March 15 local caucuses, where the convention delegates were elected. Hansen all along was publicly forthright about his plan to pack the caucuses with supporters and run their own slate of delegate candidates. Hatch dominated that night with the help of unprecedented turnout across the state.
Two years ago, Hatch instantly became one of the most vulnerable incumbents up in 2012. Making it to the primary seemed like a long shot, let alone emerging from the convention with the nomination in hand.
Then-Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) went into the 2010 caucuses and convention unprepared for the conservative challenges awaiting him, and he never made it out. Now-Sen. Mike Lee was one of two candidates to earn a spot in the primary that year, while Bennett became the first Senate incumbent of the cycle to go down to defeat.
A Salt Lake Tribune poll of the 2010 delegates taken shortly after that convention found 71 percent inclined to nominate someone other than Hatch in 2012. With a new group of delegates, the Hatch campaign nearly turned that number on its head.
Hatch’s successful campaign has also largely minimized the effectiveness of outside spending, as at least one influential force in GOP primaries stayed out of the race. FreedomWorks has actively worked to defeat Hatch, but the Club for Growth, which was instrumental in Bennett’s demise and is no fan of Hatch, never engaged.
Should Hatch win the nomination Saturday, he would have only the general election, largely a formality in statewide races in GOP-dominated Utah, to dispense with. If he falls short, Hatch would still be favored in the primary.
Hatch, a nearly 36-year Senate veteran, said last month that his seventh term would be his last.