It appears virtually certain that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) will challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) for the Republican Senate nomination next year and officially announce his campaign after Labor Day. Chaffetz has been considering the race for months. It will be the second time that he attempts to unseat a Republican incumbent. In 2008, he defeated six-term Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT-3) to obtain the congressional district he currently represents.
The key to the race, as it was for Sen. Mike Lee when he defeated then-Sen. Bob Bennett during the 2010 GOP nominating process, is the state Republican convention. Utah is one of the few states where party convention voting can actually determine a nomination. If a candidate receives 60 percent of the delegate vote, then that candidate is officially nominated. Primaries can occur if two candidates, and only two, fall between 40 and 59 percent of convention balloting. Should that happen, then the two qualifying candidates move to the actual primary election.
The state convention delegates, who number approximately 3,500, are chosen at local county caucuses. It was at this level of the process where Sen. Bennett actually met his demise. Statistics show that an average of 30,000 people historically attend the local caucuses. In 2010, largely motivated by the anti-Bennett and Tea Party movement, more than 75,000 people participated. Once these county voters chose their state delegate slates, Bennett’s fate was sealed. He ended his career failing to even qualify for the primary ballot.
Sen. Hatch may be in a different position, mostly because he is learning from Bennett’s experience. He will have his own operation to turn out supporters for the county caucus meetings with the strategy of obtaining enough votes to force a primary. It is already clear that Chaffetz has the inside track to placing first at the state convention, but it is always difficult to obtain 60 percent in any voting universe. Hatch merely must reach 40 percent, which is a reasonable goal. Early polling suggests that the senator still enjoys strength in a primary voting situation, and he certainly is the superior fundraiser. Therefore, if Chaffetz is to wrest the nomination away from Hatch, he will almost certainly do so at the convention.
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