Today's post travels away from Washington and the presidential race to Utah and the U.S. Senate race, where for the first time since he won first won election in 1976, Senator Orrin Hatch faces a real race.
Much has been made of Hatch avoiding the ignominy of his fellow Utah Republican incumbent Bob Bennett, who two years ago was rejected by his state convention and left off the ballot. Hatch was determined not to let this happen to him and he spent $3 million trying to win favor with a handful of Republicans and brought in Utah's biggest political celebrity, Mitt Romney, to cut an ad for him.
But despite all this money and firepower, Hatch was not able to avoid a primary. He narrowly missed the 60 percent threshold, (he got 59 percent) and now faces a fresh-faced former state senator, Dan Liljenquist, who interestingly once worked at Bain Capital.
This race interests me on a mechanical level: Can Orrin Hatch who has never had a serious challenge for reelection, winning in most cycles with more than 60 percent of the vote, figure out at age 78 how modern campaigns are waged? And it interests me as part of a larger story of Republicans turning on longtime incumbents like Dick Lugar who have fail the new tea party litmus tests on conservatism.
Certainly, this is the case being made against Hatch.
His clout and seniority are being used against him, portrayed simply as attributes that make him a more effective advocate for the wrong policies, like health-care coverage for all children and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Like Lugar, he is painted as having "gone Washington" and become a compromised big-spender.
But I wonder if we make too much of the ideological nature of these fights. After all, politics is cyclical, and we may be witnessing a once-in-a-generation passing of the guard. Hatch's own victory against incumbent Frank Moss in 1976 foreshadowed the anti-incumbent wave of 1980. In that race, a young Orrin Hatch used a battle cry whose echo he is hearing so many years later: "What do you call a senator who's served in office for 18 years? You call him home."