Last week, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) released his internal poll of 335 delegates to the Utah State Republican Convention depicting him to be in strong shape. In Utah, the statewide party meeting has the power to nominate candidates for elective office sans a primary election. According to the Dan Jones Associates poll (March 27-29) conducted for the Hatch campaign, the senator holds a 62-16 percent lead over former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, his main rival for the GOP nomination. If the convention delegates give 60 percent of their votes to one candidate, that individual is nominated. If no one attains such a support level, the top two candidates above 40 percent are forced into a June 26 primary.
But a new outside organization poll, the Strong Utah Super PAC that ironically supports Sen. Hatch, reveals different numbers. This data, conducted by the NSON Opinion Strategy firm based in Salt Lake City (April 2-3; 400 Republican Utah convention delegates), still gives Hatch a strong lead but shows him well below the 60 percent mark. According to the NSON results, the senator leads Liljenquist 50-19 percent.
While the two surveys both portray Hatch as the clear front-runner, there is serious doubt as to whether he can win renomination without going to a primary election. You will remember that former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) lost his bid for re-election in 2010 because he failed to even qualify for the primary. A strong Hatch campaign has probably prevented a recurrence of a Bennett-style result, but it does appear that he has yet to secure enough votes to again win nomination through the convention process. The Utah State Republican convention convenes Saturday, April 21.