Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will now face a Republican primary in his bid for a seventh term, following a vote of delegates at the state GOP convention, after having received a majority that fell just short of the 60 percent needed to win his nomination outright.
Out of over 3,900 delegates in attendance on Saturday, Hatch received 57.2 percent of the vote on the first ballot, the state GOP announced, to former state Sen. Liljenquist’s 28.8 percent. All seven other candidates were then eliminated — even if their supporters combined together, they would not be able to overtake Liljenquist — and Hatch and Liljenquist faced off on a second ballot.
On that second ballot, the state GOP announced, Hatch received 2,313 votes for 59.2 percent, against Liljenquist’s 1,595 for 40.8 percent.
The Republican primary between Hatch and Liljenquist will be held on June 26. As the Salt Lake Tribune reports, this will be the first time Hatch has even had to have a primary since 1976.
Hatch was first elected to the Senate in 1976, and has been easily returned to the Senate ever since. He announced recently that he will retire in 2018 at the end of the next term, if he is re-elected — but, in his campaign pitch, he would use all of his seniority and clout on the state’s behalf until then.
At the state GOP convention two years ago, incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett came in third place — denied even the opportunity to seek re-election in a primary — and was eventually replaced by Republican Mike Lee. As a result of the convention and caucus system, the nomination was thus determined via the will of Republican activists who attended the caucuses, a voting pool that skews sharply to the right.
Bennett had been targeted by the right-wing group FreedomWorks and others, over issues of his long-term incumbency, past flirtations at working with Democrats on health care and his vote for the TARP bailout. Those same issues have all been wielded against Hatch, as well, and FreedomWorks and others geared up again to target Hatch this time around.
Hatch had the advantage of having learned from Bennett’s misfortune, though, and made a very strong push in last month’s caucuses — so strong, in fact that pro-Hatch delegates were all elected from Liljenquist’s home precinct.