After Lugar's Loss, Hatch Not Taking Race for Granted; Utahn Shuns Debate with Senate Rival

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 29, 2012 | Go to article overview

After Lugar's Loss, Hatch Not Taking Race for Granted; Utahn Shuns Debate with Senate Rival


Byline: Valerie Richardson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Orrin G. Hatch appeared to be coasting to victory in Utah's Republican Senate primary, and then Richard G. Lugar happened.

The loss by the six-term Mr. Lugar in the Indiana Republican primary May 8 to upstart state Treasurer Richard Mourdock casts an uneasy shadow over the Hatch re-election campaign. As with his Indiana cohort, Mr. Hatch is facing a younger and more conservative challenger in former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist.

Mr. Lugar and Mr. Hatch are the oldest and most senior Republicans in the Senate, both having been elected to their first terms in 1976. The question now is whether one or both of them will be retiring from the Senate in 2013.

Sen. Hatch is doing everything he can to avoid what happened to Dick Lugar, said Tim Chambless, a University of Utah political science professor and academic outreach coordinator at the school's Hinckley Institute of Politics. It's one thing to talk about what happened to Bob Bennett two years ago. It's another thing to talk about what happened to Dick Lugar two weeks ago.

Mr. Bennett lost his seat in 2010, coming in third at the state Republican convention and failing to make the primary ballot. Mr. Hatch did far better, placing first at the convention in April with 59.2 percent of the vote, just shy of the 60 percent required to avoid a runoff.

Mr. Hatch now faces a June 26 primary against Mr. Liljenquist, who received 40.8 percent of the delegate vote for second place. By all accounts, the incumbent Mr. Hatch enjoys huge advantages in terms of fundraising and name recognition against a candidate whose name most voters would have trouble recognizing, much less pronouncing.

Orrin Hatch's name ID is about 100 percent. Dan's is about 50 percent, said Liljenquist spokeswoman Holly Richardson. Which is more than it was in January, when it was 10 percent.

But Mr. Liljenquist has put the Hatch camp on the defensive by calling for a series of candidate debates, an issue that has dominated the primary race to date. Five state newspapers, including the two Salt Lake City dailies, have taken Mr. Hatch to task for refusing to participate in any televised debate and just one radio debate with his opponent.

Meanwhile, the Hatch campaign is playing protect-the-lead, citing the senator's busy schedule in Washington and full plate of state events as reasons for avoiding a televised debate. The campaign also notes that the senator debated Mr. Liljenquist and other Republican candidates twice before the April convention.

In the real world, demanding debates is a time-worn campaign tactic used by candidates with little name recognition in the effort to gain free press attention, said Hatch spokeswoman Evelyn Call in a statement. …

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