Utah Republican convention: How Orrin Hatch (almost) beat back a tea party revolt
As Republicans in Utah have turned more moderate since 2010, veteran US Sen. Orrin Hatch has turned more conservative. Taken together, this nearly helped Hatch survive a tea party challenge at Saturday's Republican nominating convention. Instead, he faces a primary election in June.
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In both Utah and Indiana, national tea party groups have tried to replicate their numerous successful attacks against more moderate incumbents in 2010, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars from national donors to air attack ads against two senators whom they see as having lost some of their conservative values and have thus damaged efforts to fight the more progressive agenda of Democrats and the White House.Skip to next paragraph
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“[Hatch] has a history of reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats, which obviously does not sit well with many tea party activists and other conservatives,” write CNN reporters Ashley Killough and Paul Steinhauser. “But Hatch has taken steps since the mid-term elections to fight that criticism by highlighting his conservative chops.”
That shift has been reflected in score cards by various conservative groups, like the Club for Growth, which has not endorsed anyone in the race. Hatch received a 99 percent rating from the group in 2011, but that was up from a lifetime rating of 78. Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller told FactCheck.org, a project by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, that Hatch underwent “an election year conversion,” and that his full record is “hardly conservative.”
Just as importantly as Hatch’s “conversion,” Utah voters, too, have changed their priorities, polls suggest, with one survey saying that 44 percent of voters want an incumbent to maintain seniority for the state, a figure that was 17 percent two years ago. Moreover, one poll conducted by the Utah Foundation and the Hinckley Institute of Politics suggested that Utah residents had selected a more moderate set of delegates than in 2010 amid a decline of support for the tea party.
That shift came after many state Republicans who believed the tea party hijacked the nomination process in 2010 flooded this year’s neighborhood caucuses, where participation nearly doubled this year compared to 2010.
"They've chosen delegates that are more moderate in their views and more representative of the voting population," Morgan Lyon Cotti, research director for the Utah Foundation, tells Reuters.
"Instead of being concerned about some issues that can be pretty divisive between Republicans and Democrats, like states issues, immigration and gun control, we saw that some of those things had fallen out of the top 10 and one of the top concerns was partisan politics," she said.
While some pundits say the Utah and Indiana races are a test of the tea party staying power after rising up in 2009 to fight government bailouts and health care reform, others suggest Hatch’s turn to the right after Bennett lost in 2010 is itself a victory and a symbol of how successful the tea party has been in reviving conservative ideals and focusing the debate in Washington on the national debt and Obama’s economic policies.
Mr. Liljenquist, who has received tea party support for his challenge of Hatch, was hardly ready to cede victory in Utah yet. “We feel great,” he tells Reuters. “Delegates are notoriously difficult to poll.”
IN PICTURES: Tea party politics