Sen. Orrin Hatch and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist will face off in a June 26 primary for the Republican nomination in Utah.
The 78-year-old incumbent came up just short of securing his party’s nomination today at the state Republican convention in Salt Lake City, but he starts out favored against his conservative challenger.
Nearly 4,000 people gathered at the South Towne Exposition Center to decide nominees for four statewide positions and the four Congressional districts, with the Senate contest up first on the agenda. Needing 60 percent to secure the nomination, Hatch received 59.2 percent of the vote in the second round of balloting to Liljenquist's 40.8 percent. A total of 10 candidates vied for the nomination, with all but Hatch and Liljenquist eliminated after the first round.
With a much broader and likely more moderate primary electorate, Hatch, who had $3.2 million in cash on hand as of April 1, has the early edge over Liljenquist, who had $242,000 in cash on hand.
Recent polling on behalf of the Hatch campaign had him taking just more than the 60 percent necessary. That proved to be close, but the anti-Hatch vote did not increase enough from the first ballot to the second for the Senator to win outright. Still, just making it out of the convention was a prospect not many saw as realistic two years ago.
Once listed among the most vulnerable of the 33 Senators up for re-election this cycle, the Hatch campaign began preparing for this day more than 15 months ago. After then-Sen. Bob Bennett (R) was defeated at the conservative-dominated 2010 convention, Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen set out to raise record-breaking money and replace as many of the 2010 delegates as possible.
That happened at the 2,000 or so March 15 precinct caucuses, when a Hatch TV ad featuring former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and efforts by the Mormon Church to get its members to participate led to record-setting attendance. Since then, Hatch and his challengers have met with as many delegates as possible, hoping to persuade and secure support ahead of the convention.