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Will the Tea Party bring down Orrin Hatch?
A GOP icon suffers a big setback at the party's Utah convention, failing to dodge a primary challenge from a conservative candidate backed by the noisy grassroots movement
 
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.: The six-term senator faces a potentially tough primary challenge from a Tea Party-backed conservative candidate.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.: The six-term senator faces a potentially tough primary challenge from a Tea Party-backed conservative candidate.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a powerful leader of the Republican establishment who has served in the Senate since 1977, suffered a stunning setback on Saturday when he failed to lock up the nomination for a seventh term, falling just short of the 60 percent support he needed from the 3,900 delegates at Utah's GOP convention. Now Hatch faces a statewide primary vote in June against Dan Liljenquist, a Tea Party-backed former state senator. Something similar happened to Hatch's longtime Senate companion, Bob Bennett, in 2010, when the conservative Utahan finished third at the convention, effectively being ousted from the Senate before he could even advance to a primary. Are Tea Partiers about to topple another Capitol Hill icon?

No. The Tea Party's influence is waning: Two years ago, "Tea-Party-fueled unrest" brought down Hatch's home-state colleague, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. But this time around, Hatch "very nearly escaped a primary challenge," coming within a single point of the 60 percent he needed to win the nomination outright. And remember, Hatch hasn't swerved drastically to the right to cater to the Tea Party. He's merely inched over. And yet, he's still likely to survive. Clearly, the Tea Party's once-mighty clout has been lessened since 2010.
"Is the Tea Party still relevant?"

Yes. The Tea Party is stronger than its enemies think: The mainstream media is trying to convince Americans that after the successes of 2010, the Tea Party has become "politically impotent," says Michael Walsh at National Review. But Liljenquist's impressive challenge against Hatch tells a different story. Conservatives know they'll never restore fiscal sanity in Washington by returning an insider like Hatch to "the comfy chair for six more years." Don't be surprised if he winds up becoming "another notch on the Tea Party's war club."
"Tea Party like it's 1976"

The real test is yet to come: This June primary is Hatch's to lose, says Allahpundit at Hot Air. He has better name recognition and a much bigger campaign war chest than Liljenquist. Hatch also "has the full support of the first Mormon presidential nominee in U.S. history," a big help in heavily Mormon Utah. "But there's bound to be a burst of Tea-Party enthusiasm" for Liljenquist now that he's one of the movement's last hopes for steering the GOP further to the right, so this is going to be a battle to watch.
"Orrin Hatch fails to clinch GOP nomination in Utah — by 0.9 percent"

 

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