Friday, September 07, 2012

Utah U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Utah U.S. Senate

September 7, 2012
60 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (West)

Outlook: Safe Republican

First elected in 1976, Republican Orrin Hatch, is poised to become President Pro Tempore of the U.S. Senate if Republicans capture a majority this year. His own re-election looks certain this year, although that did not always appear to be the case.

There were shockwaves across the Utah political establishment and nationally when the state's junior Senator Robert Bennett, despite being pretty conservative by any reasonable standard, saw his political career ended by a 2010 Utah GOP Convention, in which the incumbent failed to garner enough support to even make it to a primary ballot, where he would have been far more likely to lead. Utah would go on to elect a new, Tea Party backed Republican Senator and many speculated that Hatch could meet the same fate if he ran for reelection in 2012.

In some regards, Hatch, once considered among the most staunch conservatives in the Senate, (though his brief run for the Presidency in 2000 went nowhere) had become seen as even more moderate than Bennett, and rankled conservatives, from his deep personal friendship with the late Ted Kennedy to various votes he cast. Conservatives nationally and in Utah came to believe that such an overwhelmingly Republican state was deserving of a more conservative Senator. After seeing Bennett lose in the convention though, the 78 year old Hatch took nothing for granted in his reelection effort and started raising large sums of money and reaching out to conservatives nationally and in his state early on. A couple candidates talked about as the strongest potential GOP opponents for the incumbent opted not to run and Hatch would go on receive endorsements from notable people on the right ranging from talk radio hosts to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Several candidates lined up to oppose Hatch in this year's April state Republican convention, but by then, it seemed as if any momentum to deny nomination to the Senator had passed. Hatch easily garnered more than half the total votes in two rounds of voting, though a former State Senator, who ran to his right, advanced to a June primary. It was all pretty anticlimactic though as Hatch, who had far more campaign money, prevailed with nearly two thirds of the vote among a GOP primary electorate that was certainly quite conservative, but more broad based than the kind of party convention that had ousted Bennett two years earlier.

All the while, some Democrats had held on to hope that divisions in the GOP party in Utah could provide them with a surprising opportunity for a pickup. With Hatch easily securing the nomination, that was not to be of course. Two candidates, whom Hatch had easily disposed of in his last two races, vied to face him again. Scott Howell, a former State Senate Minority Leader, who was Hatch's 2000 reelection victim easily defeated a more liberal opponent who had lost to Hatch in 2006, at the convention, eliminating the need for the Democrats to have a primary.

There has not been any recent polling on the Hatch vs. Howell general election race, but it is not expected to be close in the Republican dominated state, especially considering the fact that Hatch's ally and fellow LDS church member Mitt Romney is this year's GOP standard bearer. Any remaining people on the right who still have problems with Hatch's record will be able to voice their frustration by voting for a third party candidate of some sort, while Hatch, a proud songwriting and tough talking but non-cursing Senator, will earn yet another term.

Hatch campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 15 D, 12 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 45 D, 49 R