Sen. Orrin Hatch failed to secure his nomination for a seventh term Saturday at the Utah Republican Convention, falling a scant 32 votes short. Hatch received 3,213 votes once the field winnowed to he and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, but 3,245 were needed to avoid a June 26 primary. Hatch’s official convention vote percentage was 59.1, but 60 percent is required to clinch the nomination.
Pre-convention polling proved spot on. The publicly released Dan Jones Associates studies suggested that Sen. Hatch was hovering right around the 60 percent mark, but it was unclear as to whether he could go over the top. Gov. Gary Herbert (R), also being challenged for renomination, was in a similar position to Hatch but he escaped with a convention victory. Herbert claimed 63 percent of the delegate vote and will advance to the general election against retired Army Major General Peter Cooke (D). The governor now becomes the prohibitive favorite for the general election.
Hatch begins the Senate primary election in very strong political position, however. Polling conducted several weeks ago posted him to a comfortable lead against any potential GOP challenger. He is also in superior financial standing. The candidates’ April 1 financial disclosure report showed the senator to be holding $3.2 million in his campaign account versus just $242,000 for Liljenquist. The eventual Republican nominee will be pitted against former state Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, who won the Democratic nomination with 63 percent of the vote at his party’s convention, also on Saturday.
In House races, incumbent Republicans Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) were easily renominated and move forward into what should be non-competitive November political contests.
In the open 2nd District (part of Salt Lake and Utah counties plus five smaller counties), no primary will occur for either party. For the dominant GOP, businessman Chris Stewart, withstanding coordinated negative attacks generated in unison from the other candidates, cracked the 60 percent threshold and captured the congressional nomination. He defeated former Utah House Speaker David Clark on the final vote, despite none of the other candidates endorsing Stewart after they themselves were eliminated on previous ballots. Mr. Stewart will be favored in the general election against former state Rep. Jay Seegmiller, who easily won the Democratic nomination.
But it was the 4th District (parts of Salt Lake, Utah, Sanpete and Juab Counties) that yielded the most interesting result. Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, captured 70.4 percent on the final ballot and derailed former state Rep. Carl Wimmer to claim the nomination. The redistricting plan had crafted this seat for Wimmer, but he proved no match for the charismatic Love. The new nominee also enjoyed national support, backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Chief Deputy Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.
The 4th District general election could be one of the most interesting in the nation. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), despite previously representing only one-third of the new 4th District’s constituency, decided that his re-election chances are better here than in his current 2nd District even though he represents 40 percent of the new UT-2. The Obama ’08 percentage in new District 4 is 41 percent, as compared to 39 percent in the current 2nd.
A Matheson-Love campaign promises to be hard-fought, and will likely culminate in a close finish. Now that the general election is set, move this race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss-up.” The change is due to Love’s strength as a challenger, now that nominees are determined, and the Republican nature of new District 4.