(CNN) - Utah Republicans forced Orrin Hatch into a June primary for the U.S. Senate seat he has held since 1976 as Hatch fell short of winning the party’s nomination for a seventh term Saturday.
Hatch came within 42 votes of winning the nomination outright at the state’s GOP convention, but ultimately missed the 60% support needed to avoid a primary. He will face former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, one of nine challengers who tried to oust him, on June 26.
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Hatch’s history of reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats does not sit well with many tea party activists and other conservatives. But those constituencies may take more favorably his leading the Senate GOP push for a balanced budget amendment and co-sponsoring a Republican amendment to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.
Hatch won the support of 59.19% of the 4,000 delegates in the second round of voting, with Liljenquist claiming 40.81%. The remaining eight challengers were eliminated on the first ballot, when Hatch won 57% of the vote, Liljenquist 28%, and state Rep. Chris Herrod just over 10% - a threshold reached by no other candidate.
Hatch has spent millions in the last year against the challengers and outside groups seeking his ouster. He went into the weekend with some polls, including internal surveys released by his campaign, split as to whether a primary would take place.
At the 2010 GOP convention, the state’s boiling tea party movement - largely fueled by the passing of the sweeping health care legislation – swept aside longtime Utah Sen. Bob Bennett when he finished third and the top two candidates faced off in a primary. Mike Lee won the November election for the seat.
In a short speech to the convention – each candidate was allowed six minutes to speak or show a video presentation – Hatch touted his seniority, arguing it would land him a powerful committee chairmanship and has given him expertise with navigating the nation’s upper legislative house.
“Not anyone else in this race can say the same, not if he’s telling the truth,” Hatch said.
But Liljenquist told delegates, “Your vote today has nothing to do with the words ‘chairman’ or ‘seniority.’ ”
“It has everything to do with the experience… and background to turn things around,” he said.
Several candidates touted their willingness to work with likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney, should he be elected president, but Hatch’s presentation opened with a video of Mitt Romney urging delegates to vote for “my friend, Orrin Hatch.”
Romney has a reserve of goodwill in the state where many share his Mormon faith, and which saw him turn around the 2002 Olympic games held in Salt Lake City.
A Salt Lake Tribune survey released Thursday shows that 62% of Republican voters in Utah back Hatch as the Senate nominee, with 20% favoring Liljenquist, 6% supporting Herrod, and 12% unsure. The poll did not ask about seven other lesser-known candidates.
Internal polling of convention delegates released by the Hatch campaign showed him above the 60% mark. Surveys conducted by some other organizations showed him falling short of the threshold.
In a statement after his win, Hatch said he is "prepared for the primary election ahead."
“Today was a good win for me, and for my campaign. We have come a long way in a short period of time," he said. “I am prepared and energized for the battle ahead. I have had the wonderful opportunity to travel our state from corner to corner, talking to voters, and discussing the issues of great importance to Utahns – and I will continue to work hard to ensure that my message is heard loud and clear."
Liljenquist told supporters in a Saturday evening fundraising email, "I promise to go to Washington and promote fiscal conservatism so that we can get our country and our economy back on track."
Among other influences in the race, the conservative and tea party-aligned group FreedomWorks is seeking to unseat Hatch, as it and allies did in Bennett’s 2010 bid. The national political director of FreedomWorks said in a statement after Saturday's vote that Hatch "had 36 years to get his act together, but continues to put power over policy."
“Dan Liljenquist is a rock solid conservative who will uphold the Constitution and stand by Senator Mike Lee in Washington to get America’s spending problem under control," Russ Walker said.
But groups aligned with Hatch, including the National Rifle Association and the super PAC Freedom Path, spent more than FreedomWorks in the lead up to Utah’s March local caucuses.
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Too bad...just like the Senate. Got to have 60.
How extremist is the Republican Party that Orrin Hatch is too liberal for them?
TEA PARTY ???
WHAT TEA PARTY ???
Nancy Pelosi said it was just Astro-Turf !!!
Lib's & RINO's beware... We... The people... Vote.
2012 IS NOT GOING TO BE LIKE 2010. EVERYONE IS AWARE OF WHAT THE TEA PARTY IS ABOUT AND DOESN'T WANT ANY OF IT.
Because he has reached across the aisle to work with Democrats, this is a reason for his own party to want to oust him? Are you friggin kidding me? And to think that people support, and vote for policies like this. How pathetic the Republican party has become, how isolated, how out of touch with mainstream America.
I wish the democrats would do some soul searching and have the guts (brains) to vote out their worst reps. Pelosi and Watters are just two that need replacing.
Put him on a Golf Course with John McCain..and most of the other old,wealthy,over the hill Republican men.
Seven terms is too many, even if he is one of the more reasonable Republicans. Time to go.
God save us from the fascists, with his help, the Tea Party will be a single sheet in the annals of history.
He won't live out his next term. Only way to get rid of him is for him to die of a heart attach on the senate floor.
This is all Bar'aq al-Hussein Obungo's fault!!!!
Our Kenyan Muslim president...
Out with old, in with the new!
36 years, well there comes a time when it's time to do something different. Don't get me wrong, I like him okay, but 36 years is way to long.
"Live by the sword, d ie by the sword". The tea bags put repubigots in power, and they will take them out of power.
THIS is BAD. REALLY BAD.
Those people are still mad, Obama is STILL a boob, and WE are still in trouble come November.
Are those people nuts? They're trying to oust one of the most conservative Republicans, one with almost 60% support in the primary, with a nutcase that could lose the general. Did they learn nothing from how they tried to push Sharron Angle on the public and let Harry Reid get reelected?
Why doesn't someone force the tea party people to form their own party? I used to vote Republican if I felt the candidate was better. I have now re-registered as a Democrat because the Republicans have not had the guts to stand up to these people. Instead, they cater to every whim of the extremist tea party movement (ska the Koch brothers)
Does this mean he will finally leave?
We need a term limit for the House and senate. As long as the good ol boys are allowed to destroy this country without impunity then we need to at least be able to control how badly and for how long they do it.
Kick hm out. He's too old. If he had any ideas, we'd be much further ahead. In fact, kick out all the bagger-backed people in the House too. Hatch is another mormon that will say anything to win.
When running the first time in 1977 he promised he would only run for one term. Time to go Orrin. It's been a good run and I don't mean your makeup.
How extreme is the Republican party of Utah, if Hatch is too liberal and there is nothing wrong with being liberal, and Hatch is not liberal, but now you know. They through out a good Senator last time because of TARP and they don't even know what TARP means or what it did.
Just get rid of this old junk. I think we need to pass senate and congress term limits.
Just like the Pesident all of these guys should have term limits.
Circular firing squad led by the teabaggers. Obama/Biden 2012!