If Sen. Orrin Hatch is breathing a sigh of relief, he isn’t acting like it. In a brief interview with Roll Call this evening, the Utah Republican declined to gloat about his Saturday victory at the state GOP convention.
Rather, Hatch displayed the same attitude of determined but disciplined caution he has exhibited since beginning what many believed was an uphill campaign for re-election two years ago.
“We were very pleased. A couple months ago people were saying I couldn’t come out of the convention,” Hatch said, absent any of the emotion that his optimistic comments suggest.
Asked whether he agrees with prognosticators who view the Senator as an overwhelming favorite in the statewide June 26 primary given his warm relationship with the broader Republican electorate and a vast financial advantage over his challenger, former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, Hatch was equally short.
“We’re going to win, and it isn’t going to be because of money,” the six-term Senator deadpanned. “It isn’t going to be because of money, it’s going to be because of a number of factors.”
Hatch won a vote of nearly 4,000 Utah GOP convention delegates over the weekend, defeating nine challengers to secure a spot on the June 26 statewide GOP primary ballot.
But for the first time in three decades, Hatch failed to achieve the 60 percent of delegate votes required to win the GOP nomination outright and bypass the statewide primary. The Senator won with 59.2 percent, falling just short. Liljenquist garnered 40.8 percent of the vote, barely surpassing the 40 percent threshold required to advance to the June 26 primary.
With Utah’s strong conservative bent, the winner of the GOP primary is considered a shoo-in to win the general election in November. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who helped oust then-Sen. Bob Bennett at the 2010 state GOP convention and went on to win the statewide primary, took a pass when asked to predict who would come out on top in the Hatch-Liljenquist matchup.
Still, Lee noted that this year’s contest is different from his, as Liljenquist is running against an incumbent. Lee ran against a second challenger who had a hand in defeating Bennett at the 2010 convention. Additionally, it is unclear what effect third-party groups like FreedomWorks or the Club for Growth might have on the contest if they invest heavily on behalf of Liljenquist.
Lee said he would not endorse in the June primary. “I’ll endorse the moment we have a nominee,” he said.