Orrin Hatch pushed into primary in Utah Senate race

at 04:04 PM ET, 04/21/2012

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch will face off against conservative former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist in a June primary after the six-term incumbent failed to win 60 percent of the vote at the state Republican convention on Saturday.

In this Sept. 7, 2011, file photo Republican Senator of Utah Orrin Hatch, 78, serving in his sixth term on Capitol Hill, calls on the president to kick start a dormant U.S. trade agenda in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Hatch took 57 percent on the first ballot and then 59 percent on a second ballot, one on one fight against Liljenquist. Hatch needed to win 60 percent of the vote to avoid a June 26 primary.

Hatch forces had hoped to win the nomination outright on Saturday. He came up short on that goal. But, Hatch did avoid the fate of Sen. Bob Bennett (R), who two years ago lost his bid for reelection when he finished third at the state party convention amid deep discontent directed at him from conservatives.

Bennett’s defeat served as a wake-up call for Hatch who spent the intervening two years relentlessly courting Utah conservatives in hopes of avoiding his one-time colleague’s fate. (Here’s a good summary of how Hatch re-made himself.)

Hatch also benefited from some measure of good luck when Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), who was considered a sure thing to take on Hatch, decided against a bid in August 2011.

Hatch will likely enters the June primary as the favorite since the electorate will be considerably larger than the 4,000 or so delegates who participated at Saturday’s convention.

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