Veteran U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah will face a Republican primary fight after delegates to a party convention on Saturday denied him the nomination, forcing him into an election with a Tea Party-backed challenger who finished second. Hatch, 78, won the day over nine challengers, but narrowly fell short of reaching the 60 percent of the vote needed in a pairing against his number two challenger, Dan Liljenquist, to win the nomination outright and avoid the primary, Reuters reported. Heavily Republican Utah last elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate more than four decades ago, so the Republican nominee is usually considered the presumptive winner of the general election. The nominating convention held in Sandy, Utah, marked a test for the continuing strength of Tea Party activists, who played a decisive role nationally in the 2010 mid-term elections and helped unseat then-Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah. In a final delegate vote on Saturday, Hatch took 59.2 percent of the votes to 40.8 percent for Liljenquist, a former state senator with a Tea Party following. Hatch was only 32 delegates short of getting the required 60 percent vote that would have allowed him to avoid a primary contest. A total of 3,908 delegates participated. In the first round, eight challengers were eliminated.
Hatch told reporters afterward he was upbeat about the results and expected to win the June 26 Republican primary. “I consider it a tremendous victory, considering what has happened in the past, and what we’ve had to do,” Hatch said. Without naming names, Hatch also denounced what he called the “ultra-liars,” who he said had distorted his record.
“We’ve got outside groups coming in here that are just vicious and awful and they don’t tell the truth,” he said. “Utah is not going to put up with that.” At the convention, Liljenquist told the delegates, “No one senator is too big to fail,” the New York Times reported.