Senator Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) is 42 points ahead of his challenger, former state senator Dan Liljenquist, 62–20, in the latest poll for the Salt Lake Tribune. Senator Dick Lugar (R., Ind.), on the other hand, is five points behind his opponent, state treasurer Richard Mourdock, 39–44, in a poll commissioned by Citizens United, which is supporting Mourdock.
Tea partiers’ lists of grievances against the two grandees read largely the same: Both men have been in the Senate since 1977; both voted for TARP; both fostered friendly relations with Democrats. But Hatch has a firmer grasp on his party’s nomination than Lugar because he reached out to tea-party groups earlier in the election cycle.
Indeed, Mourdock’s lead in the polls rests largely on his tea-party support. Among tea partiers, Mourdock leads 63–24. Moderates and traditional conservatives, meanwhile, side with Lugar. In 2010 — the year tea partiers ousted Hatch’s former colleague Bob Bennett — Hatch faced a similar dynamic: Seventy-one percent of delegates to the Utah GOP’s tea-party-dominated state convention wanted Hatch out.
Alarmed, the Beehive State’s senior senator sprang into action. He spent $3 million contacting over 100,000 Republicans in the state and pinpointed 5,000 people willing to run as pro-Hatch delegates to this year’s state convention, the Salt Lake Tribunereports. He courted prominent members of the state’s tea-party groups — he even hired some of them.
Hatch also ratcheted up his rhetoric. For example, speaking to a group of College Republicans in February 2011, he called Obamacare an “awful piece of crap” and a “dumbass program.” (He later apologized for his crudity.) And he shifted his voting record rightward. In 2011, for instance, he earned a 99 percent rating from the Club for Growth for his votes that year, 21 points higher than his lifetime rating of 78.
That wasn’t enough to persuade Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller, who told FactCheck.org that Hatch had experienced “an election year conversion” and that his voting record was “hardly conservative.”
Still, Hatch’s approach is working. He was only 32 votes shy of winning the 60 percent necessary to secure the nomination at the convention. Liljenquist, meanwhile, barely got enough votes to be placed on the ballot. Roger Bringhurst, a tea-party sympathizer who’s supporting Hatch, tells NRO he’s had several in-person encounters with the senator. “I’ve met him at a couple of his meetings,” Bringhurst says. “I’ve talked to him quite a bit. It’s resonating.”
Lugar’s charm offensive began in 2011, a year after Hatch’s, and was considerably less aggressive. He maintained his moderate tone and outsourced attacks — millions of dollars in attack ads, in fact — to campaign staff and outside groups, such as the American Action Network.