Seeking his seventh term — which, if completed in 2018, would make him the second-
longest serving Republican in Senate history — Hatch’s hard-fought campaign for survival upended the notion that the tea party had become the dominant force in the Republican Party and proved that even in today’s environment, old-fashioned political guile and determination can sometimes trump the rebellious energy of a grass-roots insurgency.
Some critics think that Hatch, 78 — never one to be mistaken for a moderate — has moved his policy positions and his political rhetoric so far to the right to appease the most conservative activists in Utah that his victory would in fact be a win for the tea party. But even that, it appears, would not have been enough.
In the past two election cycles, conservative activists in Utah have ousted veteran Republican incumbents at their GOP conventions for not being conservative enough, or for being too willing to compromise on key issues. Two years ago, Sen. Robert F. Bennett, a three-term senator from a political dynasty dating to the 1950s, finished a dismal third — defeated by chants of “TARP, TARP” because of his support for the $700 billion financial bailout in 2008.
With little support from elected state leaders and an outside group pouring more than $750,000 into his defeat, Hatch seemed ripe for the taking, following the 2010 defeat of GOP establishment figures in Utah, Nevada, Delaware, Colorado and Alaska. In a widely circulated interview with Politico two months ago, the chief of staff for Republican Sen. Mike Lee, Bennett’s successor, boldly predicted Hatch’s defeat at the convention and suggested that he retire so he could “go out on top and be regarded as the statesman.”
Hatch, who has spent decades fashioning grand compromises with the likes of the late Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), had a different game plan.
While Bennett and former representative Chris Cannon — defeated at the 2008 GOP convention by Rep. Jason Chaffetz — bemoaned the state’s arcane rules for nominating candidates, Hatch used them to his advantage. “He worked hard and spent a lot of money,” Chaffetz, 45, who considered challenging the senator, said with grudging respect. “He’s just parked himself in Utah.”
More than a year ago, Hatch’s campaign polled the 3,500 Republican delegates who voted Bennett out of office in May 2010.
Its discovery: Hatch had no chance of getting renominated, if those same 3,500 people voted.