SANDY, Utah – Utah Republicans denied U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch a clear path to a seventh and final term Saturday, forcing the 78-year-old lawmaker into a June primary with 37-year-old former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Hatch fell short of the outright nomination by fewer than three dozen votes from the nearly 4,000 delegates at the party convention.
In a matter of weeks, Hatch turned the question of whether he would survive the convention into a question of whether he would reach the 60 percent threshold to earn the nomination.
Despite the setback, Hatch holds a significant fundraising edge in what has become the stiffest challenge since his election to the Senate in 1976.
The eventual Republican nominee will be the heavy favorite in November because of GOP dominance in Utah.
“A few months ago, a lot of people weren’t giving me a chance,” Hatch said. “So I feel good. I consider it a victory with everything that happened in the past.”
While most states rely on primaries to secure a party’s nomination, Utah elects delegates to get first crack at determining whether a candidate should earn the nomination outright. In all, 10 candidates ran for the Senate seat.
Whoever wins the Republican primary will face former state Sen. Scott Howell, who received the Democratic nomination on Saturday. Howell lost to Hatch in 2000 and no Democrat from Utah has been elected to the Senate since 1970.