Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, who has a tough intra-party challenge in his bid for a seventh term, is confident he is well positioned for re-election after state party caucuses, a campaign spokeswoman said today.
Initial reports after yesterday’s caucuses show that a strong number of delegates elected to attend a state party convention next month are supporters of Hatch, said Evelyn Call, a spokeswoman for his campaign.
“We’re feeling very optimistic about the results we’re seeing,” Call said.
The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch is facing a challenge from Republicans including state Senator Dan Liljenquist, who has some backing from Tea Party activists. Hatch also must contend with a barrage of ads targeted against him by FreedomWorks, a group founded by former House Majority Leader Richard Armey that supports the Tea Party.
A super-PAC operated by FreedomWorks, which can raise unlimited amounts for elections, has spent more than $616,000 against Hatch, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Hatch is trying to avoid the fate of former three-term Utah Senator Robert Bennett, who was toppled at his state party convention in 2010 after he didn’t gather enough votes to make it onto the ballot in a two-man primary race. Mike Lee, a Tea Party-backed former clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, prevailed in that race and is serving his first term in the Senate.
Hatch would avoid a primary and become his party’s nominee if he can garner 60 percent of the vote at next month’s party convention. Otherwise, the two top vote-getters will go on the ballot in a June 26 primary.
Hatch is drawing opposition because of his past willingness to work with Democrats on such legislative proposals as bailing out the nation’s banks, coming up with a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants and federal funding for stem-cell research. In 1997, he worked with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts to create a children’s health program.
Thomas Wright, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, said last night’s party caucuses saw record turnout, with between 125,000 and 200,000 people showing up to help elect 4,000 party convention delegates. Those who came seemed less representative of the Tea Party and more broadly representative of the party compared with 2010, he said.
“It’s a different climate than it was in 2010,” Wright said. Then, he said, “there was a lot of anger” because President Barack Obama signed his overhaul of health care into law just days before the party caucuses.
Holly Richardson, Liljenquist’s campaign manager, said Hatch is in a stronger position now than Bennett was after the 2010 caucuses.
“But I think we’re pretty comfortable with where we are right now, and we have five weeks to make our case,” Richardson said.
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