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.
(Image credit: 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.

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