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Goliath smirks: The Orrin Hatch Machine shuts down a challenger

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By Michelle Malkin  •  August 22, 2011 05:46 PM

Before I get to the big and disappointing announcement this afternoon, I want to share an e-mail from a Utah Tea Party leader in Utah who was incensed that the movement to unseat entrenched incumbent GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch was falsely portrayed as an “outside” campaign orchestrated by nefarious forces:

Dear Michelle,

Most of the most prominent, active and influential tea party leaders in Utah have been working together for months to get outside support to defeat Hatch. WE went after them in our David/Goliath situation. I know of no real tea party leaders who support Hatch, with the exception of a few on his payroll. Greta is soooo wrong about the Utah Tea Party.

Kim Coleman

More Utah voters wrote in:

Michelle:

You are right on in referring to Sen. Hatch as a Tea Party Poser. I am a Utah voter and one who would have voted Sen. Bennett out had I been given the opportunity. I loved that he was removed prior to it coming to a vote. I plan to vote out Sen. Hatch too. In my opinion his is scrambling to try to appear sympathetic to the Tea Party movement. He should have thought about that when he was reaching across the aisle with Ted Kennedy all those years. By the way, why is it that reaching across the aisle only ever means conservatives reaching across and compromising with liberals and not vice versa?

Some have suggested that we (Utahns) should vote him back in because of the power he would have as committe chair. I say that is the very reason he should go because I don’t think senators should be voted in for the power they wield but the principles they stand for.

I’ll be surprised if he is voted back in. He has been in there long enough–particularly when he originally ran on being in office for a limited time…

Russell Butler

***

I live in Utah, and Orrin is no Tea Party pur[i]st. He is a chameleon. He is conservative on issues when the timing “Bennett-fits” him. He was a chum of Teddy the “Kennedy. It is time to have the Republican Party’s house swept.. We can use another Mike Lee or Marco Rubio in Hatch’s seat…

D. Turner

***

Commenter Gene H.:

I am a Utah state delegate. The nominee out of the convention will be the general winner. Sen. Hatch is way past his sell by date. I assure you he will have a tough fight in the upcoming convention…P.S. We have a good recent track record. 4 years ago Cannon, 2 years ago Bennet(t), next: Hatch.

***

GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz had raised the hopes of grass-roots conservative activists outside the Beltway for months with strong indications that he would mount a David vs. Goliath challenge to the four-decade incumbent Hatch:

The Chaffetz calculus is not simple.

On one hand, Hatch is widely seen as vulnerable to a conservative challenger and Chaffetz is well-known and liked among Utah’s tea party base.

However, Chaffetz was a leading spokesman for House conservatives during the recent debt ceiling debate and sponsor of the Cut, Cap and Balance proposal, which advocated slashing government spending and requiring Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment.

He would have to give up that rising stature in the House to go against a senior senator in Hatch, who has a decisive fund-raising advantage and has been working feverishly for several months to repair relationships in Utah.

Chaffetz held several town hall meetings around the state — many of them outside of his congressional district — over the last several weeks where he drew cheers blasting Hatch and said he would make his announcement sometime in September.

Unfortunately, Chaffetz is bowing out this afternoon. I confirmed it with him by phone. He still thinks Utah needs fresh blood and that “Hatch is everything that is wrong with Washington,” but says he believes he’ll better serve the fiscal conservative cause by staying in the House and holding GOP leadership’s feet to the fire.

I understand his reasoning, but I know there are many grass-roots conservatives who have watched the Orrin Hatch Machine at work and are heartbroken.

Over the past few weeks, Hatch has sucked up to national conservative figures, mounted a desperate rehab effort to bolster what few conservative credentials he has left, and, according to my sources, used his incumbency machine to buy off erstwhile Tea Party leaders.

I have been told that local and state vendors, pollsters, and campaign literature printers in Utah have all been scared off doing any work for any potential Hatch challenger.

Utah Tea Party activists tell me they are scouting out other possibilities, but that the prospect of opposing the GOP establishment and Hatch’s machine is daunting.

It’s Chicago on the Wasatch Front.

But it’s not an impossible task — as Chaffetz himself showed in his upstart victory over entrenched incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon and as Sen. Mike Lee demonstrated over former Sen. Bob Bennett.

The next battle now, Tea Party folks in Utah tell me, is over a brazen bid by establishment types to do away with the very caucus system that produced Tea Party upstarts who could surmount the perks of incumbency. Bill Clayton of Sandy, Utah explains:

Primary elections for county, state, and federal offices in Utah only take place when no single candidate gets 60% of the delegates’ votes at his party’s county or state convention, in which case the two finalists face off in a primary. Bob Bennett was ejected during the second of three rounds of balloting at the 2010 Utah State GOP Convention in May. So not only did he not make it to a primary; he didn’t even make it into the third round at the convention. The third round was between Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee. Because neither Lee nor Bridgewater got 60% in that round, they faced off in a primary election in June.

Had Bennett been forced into a primary, the political establishment would have found this shocking. Incumbents normally sail cleanly out of the convention. Had Bennett lost such a primary, the establishment would found this earth-shattering. But his failure to even make it to the third round at the convention was so far outside the realm of accepted political wisdom as to be completely mind-blowing to the establishment. The funny thing is that most delegates, when talking with other delegates during the weeks before the convention, concluded that Bennett was toast. If anyone from the establishment had bothered to attend a local GOP caucus meeting in March, he would have observed that the anti-Bennett sentiment was so thick in these meetings that one could cut it with a knife.

The first sign of revolt in the Republican ranks in Utah actually happened in 2008, when Jason Chaffetz defeated incumbent RINO congressman Chris Cannon at the state convention a year before the Tea Party came into being. We Beehive-State Tea Partiers are proud to set good precedents!

Let’s hope they continue the trend and continue the fight — even if it means opposing some of the leading lights of the Republican Party trying to whitewash Hatch’s four-decade-old record as a Nanny State/open-borders/”bipartisan” tool.

We need contested caucuses and primaries, not coronations. Remember, as one of the original Tea Party slogans put it so well:

You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out.

***

More on Chaffetz’s decision.

***
Salt Lake City, April 2009. Not forgotten:

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