It has been 36 years since Sen. Orrin Hatch was first elected to the U.S. Senate, where he has never been re-elected with less than 58 percent of the vote.
But this is 2012, and the Utah Republican now finds himself facing the most unlikely of challenges to his prospects of returning to Congress's upper chamber: A primary challenge.
Hatch, 78, has been re-elected to the Senate five times after began serving in 1977. His years have afforded him much seniority, most notably on the chamber's Health and Judiciary committees, which he has chaired whenever Republicans have been in power. His most recent re-election was in 2006, when he won with 62 percent of the vote.
This year, a state GOP convention decided that Hatch should face former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist in the GOP primary, and political observers are wondering if it could be a repeat of 2010, when tea party activists ousted conservative Utah Sen. Bob Bennett based on fears that he was too moderate.
Hatch is well-known in the Senate for his moderation and years of success at reaching across the aisle. He was close friends with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the chamber's "liberal lion," for many years, and his congenial personality made him a go-to target for many Democrats eager for a sympathetic Republican ear.
He also voted for several bipartisan pieces of legislation during the George W. Bush administration, including the 2008 Wall Street bailout as well as children's health insurance and the controversial No Child Left Behind Education bill.
Mindful of that, Hatch has spent a lot of time and money re-asserting his conservative credentials in recent years. He told RTT News he was proud that he survived some predictions that he wouldn't survive the state GOP nominating convention, but he also acknowledged some frustration that he is facing a primary challenger after 35 years.
"I'll put it this way: We would prefer not to have to do it," Hatch said. "But it's just another vicissitude that I've been through after all these years."
Hatch only missed the outright GOP nomination by 32 votes. He dismissed any comparison to the tea party's past over-reaches, such as the decisions in Delaware and Nevada during 2010 that ultimately cost the Republican Party better-qualified candidates in the general election.
"No, I don't think so. We started with about 30 percent against us when that convention [started]," Hatch said. "We expected it to be [uphill], and it's kind of miraculous how it came out. We knew we were going to win, but we didn't know by how much."
Hatch has several advantages, most notably $3 million more in campaign funds than Liljenquist, as well as a polling advantage. In the most recent state poll, a Mason-Dixon survey completed on April 19, Hatch was favored by 62 percent of respondents, compared to only 20 percent for Liljenquist. However, Hatch said he isn't taking the race for granted.
"We intend to win, and we're going to do everything that's necessary," he said.
by RTT Staff Writer
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