Mormons in Congress 2012, Part 6

The latest from guest blogger Kay Atkinson King

Utah U.S. Senate Race

The Waning of Tea Party Influence?


Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT 1977-present) entered the Senate after defeating Senator Frank Moss (D-UT 1959-1977) by a 54% to 45% upset 36 years ago in the 1976 election.  Moss, who like Hatch is a member of the Church, was the last Democrat to represent Utah in the U.S. Senate.  In Hatch’s last four reelection efforts (1988, 1994, 2000, and 2006), the lowest vote he received was 62% in a three-way contest in 2006.

The 4th longest-serving U.S. Senator in the current Congress and the longest-serving Republican member of the Senate today, Hatch is only four years away from becoming the longest-serving Republican senator ever.  His nearly 36 years in the Senate have already put him well ahead of 30-year veteran Senator and LDS apostle Reed Smoot (R-UT 1903-1933), the Utah senator with the second longest period of service.  [Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC 1954-1956, 1956-1964; R-SC 1964-2003) served 48 years in the U.S. Senate, but ten years of that time he served as a Democrat.  Thurmond was the oldest living senator when he retired at the age of 100.  Senator Robert Bird [D-WV 1959-2010] is the longest serving member of the Senate, having served 51½ years.]

If the Republican Party takes the majority in the Senate in the November election, Hatch would become the President pro Tempore of the Senate – a largely honorific position of presiding over the Senate when the Vice President is not in attendance.  The Vice President is seldom in the chair, but the function of presiding over the Senate is shared among the senators of the majority party on a rotating basis.  The President pro Tempore of the Senate, however, does have a constitutional function.  He is third in line for the presidency of the United States following the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.  Hatch would not be the first Latter-day Saint to serve as President pro Tempore, however.  Senator William Henry King [D-UT 1917-1941] served in that position for six weeks from November 19, 1940-January 3, 1941, from the death of the previous President pro Tempore until his own Senate term expired six weeks later.

Hatch’s seniority has earned him a number of key leadership positions – Chair of the Senate’s Committee on Labor and Human Resources (1981-1987), Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary (1995-2001; 2003-2005), and he is now in line to serve as Chair of the Senate Finance Committee next year if the Republican Party wins the majority in the Senate in the November 2012 election.

Two years ago, most political pundits had written off Orrin Hatch.  Now after surprising success in the Utah Republican convention and the Republican primary, Hatch is considered a “shoo-in” for reelection in November.  There are a number of reasons for the change in assessment regarding Hatch.

Storm Clouds on the Horizon I:  Congressman Chris Cannon Looses

Reelection Bid in Republican Primary in 2008

Soon after Hatch won his sixth election to the Senate in 2006, it became evident that storm clouds were gathering.  In 2008, Utah Congressman Chris Cannon (R-UT 1997-2009) faced two serious challengers for reelection – Jason Chaffetz, a businessman and former aide to Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., and David Leavitt, brother of former Utah governor Michael Leavitt who at-the-time was U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Utah’s process for selecting party candidates for a federal or state office is unique and, one can argue, pernicious.  Each party holds a party convention early in the year of an election.  In the case of the Republican state convention, slightly more than 3,000 delegates are chosen by precinct caucuses around the state.  If there are multiple candidates for a particular office, the delegates vote on all candidates for the office.  (In the case of congressional candidates, only those delegates from precincts within the congressional district participate in the vote for the congressional candidate.)  If one candidate receives 60% of the convention votes, he or she (though in Utah it is seldom “she”) becomes the party’s nominee for the office and there is no primary.  If no candidate receives 60% of the vote, a second and even a third vote is held.  The second vote is with the three top candidates and the third vote with the top two candidates.  After the last vote if no candidate has the magic 60%, the top two candidates face off in the party primary to determine the party’s nominee for office.

Cannon was attacked by Chaffetz early on for being in office too long and not being sufficiently conservative, although Cannon was ranked one of the most conservative members of the House. (Chaffetz, ironically, was co-chair of the Utah Dukakis Democratic presidential campaign in 1988 when he was placekicker for the BYU football team.  His father had previously been married to Kitty Dickson, who later married Michael Dukakis.)  There were criticisms that Cannon was not tough enough on illegal immigration.  Bay Buchanan, the Mormon sister of Conservative Roman Catholic icon Pat Buchanan in a widely distributed letter wrote:  “The race in Utah is heating up and our man, Jason Chaffetz, is closing in on one of La Raza’s favorite congressman, Chris Cannon” (The Conservative Front).  (The National Council of La Raza is the leading Hispanic political action group.)

At the Utah Republican Convention on May 10, 2008, the final vote in the 3rd congressional district delegate count was 59% for Chaffetz and 41% for Cannon.  If Chaffetz had received 9 additional votes on the final ballot, he would have been the Republican candidate without a primary.  The primary election six weeks later mirrored the convention vote – Chaffetz received 60% of the vote to Cannon’s 40%.  ( with a white pride cross on its web page proclaimed:  “Adios Amigo! Jason Chaffetz beats Chris Cannon in a landslide . . . Team America candidate Jason Chaffetz defeated La Raza Republican Chris Cannon by over twenty points!”

The defeat of Cannon was a shock for several reasons.  Cannon was endorsed by President George W. Bush, and Bush’s vote in Cannon’s district was the highest percentage of the vote Bush received in any congressional district in the country.  The entire Republican establishment endorsed Cannon, including both of Utah’s Senators, Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett.  Cannon outspent Chaffetz in the primary by a ratio of 6 to 1.  Also, Cannon was a scion of one of Utah’s most distinguished Mormon political families – his great grandfather George Q. Cannon was an apostle, counselor in the First Presidency, and Utah’s territorial delegate to Congress for a decade, and his brother Joe was former Republican State Chairman and current editor-in-chief of the Deseret Morning News.

Storm Clouds on the Horizon II:  Senator Robert Bennett

Looses 2010 Reelection Bid at Utah Republican Convention

The Chris Cannon defeat was only the first shock to the Utah Republican establishment.  Two years later in 2010, Senator Robert F. Bennett (R – UT 1993-2011), who had represented Utah in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, was up for reelection.  Bennett is from a distinguished and highly regarded Mormon family.  His father, Senator Wallace F. Bennett (R-UT  1951-1974) served four terms in the U.S. Senate, his mother is a daughter of LDS President Heber J. Grant, and his wife is the granddaughter of LDS President David O. McKay.  In his third Senate race, Bennett received 68% of the vote.  For his 2010 reelection effort, he was endorsed by Mitt Romney and the entire Utah Republican establishment.  He also had a strong approval rating among Utah voters.

The Tea Party wave, first evident in Utah with the loss of Chris Cannon’s House seat in 2008, had gained in strength and ferocity by the time of the Bennett reelection effort in 2010.  The Tea Party movement began sponsoring protests and aggressively supporting political candidates in 2009.  Tea Party ideology was not that different from that of some of its earliest victims, and certainly Senator Bennett was among the most prominent of those victims.  But he was also one of the most conservative members of the Senate – pro-business, anti-tax, socially conservative.  The Tea Party attachs, however, were directed at political incumbents regardless of their conservative credentials or their political record.

The conservative radicalization that came with the rise of the Tea Party further distorted the Utah convention process.  The fervor of the Tea Party encouraged the turnout of the most conservative and anti-establishment party members at the Republican caucuses which selected convention delegates.  The result was that the convention delegates, which are always more intently conservative than Republican voters at large, were even further to the right than usual.  (The convention process has the same effect on the Democratic convention in Utah – the convention delegates are more liberal and extreme than the universe of Democratic voters in Utah.)

For the U.S. Senate seat, there were seven candidates, in addition to Bennett as the convention convened.  Merrill Cook, former Congressman (R- UT 1997-2001) was probably the best known, but he was tainted by reports of erratic behavior when he was in Congress and by having lost the Republican primary when he ran for his third congressional term in 2001.  The other two candidates were less well known in Utah – Attorney Mike Lee, son of Rex Lee, former BYU President and former Solicitor General of the United States, and businessman Tim Bridgewater, a candidate for Congress in 2004.  The Bennett opponents sought to channel Tea Party fervor into an anti-incumbent campaign.  As the convention approached there was a crescendo of voices demanding “Anybody But Bennett.”  (“Interview with Senator Bennett of Utah, Facing Reelection,” New York Times)

In the first round of voting at the Republican convention in early May 2010 with eight Senate candidates, Bennett came in 3rd with 26% of the delegate vote.  Bridgewater was 1st with 29% and Lee was 2nd with 27%.  The second round vote with only the top three candidates in contention, Bennett again was 3rd with 27% of the delegates (barely gaining any votes over the first round), Bridgewater was 1st again with 37% and Lee was 2nd with 36%.  In the final round of delegate votes on Bridgewater and Lee, to determine if one of the candidates had 60% of the vote to secure the Republican nomination without a primary, Bridgewater received 57% and Lee 43%  (“Utah Delegates Oust Three-Term Senator from Race,” New York Times“DIY Populism, Right and Left,” New York Times).

Since neither Bridgewater nor Lee received 60% of the delegate votes, a primary was necessary.  In June 2010 Lee defeated Bridgewater 51% to 49% in the Republican runoff.  That race also took on an anti-establishment flavor. Bridgewater was endorsed by more conventional Republicans (Senator Robert F. Bennett; former Republican National Committee Chair Dick Richards) while Lee was endorsed by Utah Tea Party groups and leading national insurgent conservatives (Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, former presidential candidate and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former House Majority Leader Dick Army of Texas).

The general election was not much of a contest.  Lee outspent his Democratic opponent by a ratio of almost 7 to 1, and defeated him by 62% to 33% (“Lee celebrates victory in GOP Primary,”; “Election Results,” New York Times).

Bennett’s loss in the Republican convention was more a reflection of the extremism of the convention delegates than an indication of his loss of support among rank and file voters.  According to a Deseret News/KSL TV poll, Bennett “enjoyed significant support among Utah voters.”  He was urged, and apparently considered briefly, a write-in campaign in the primary election, but he concluded that such an effort would only lead to further intra-party divisiveness.  He also added, “[T]his has been the nastiest race that we have had for a party nomination in the history of the state of Utah for a statewide office.  And people who have worked together in the party and previous elections have been split by the emotions that have been engendered by it.”  Bowing out to avoid further divisiveness was a reflection of the kind of person Bennett is (“Sen. Bob Bennett says he will not attempt write-in campaign,” Deseret News).

The Successful Hatch Nomination Strategy in 2012

Less than two months after Mike Lee’s election to the Senate, he announced publicly that he would not endorse Orrin Hatch for reelection, and he would remain neutral until the Republican candidate was determined (“Mike Lee: Orrin Hatch Not Getting My Endorsement in 2012 Primary,” Huff Post Politics ).  A year later shortly before the Utah republicans were scheduled to select convention delegates, Lee’s chief of staff was publicly saying that Hatch would probably lose the primary (“Mike Lee aide: Orrin Hatch likely to lose reelection bid,” Politico).

As Senator Hatch looked to his reelection bid for 2012, the lessons of Chris Cannon and Robert Bennett were obvious, and he took preemptive action.  First, Hatch shored up his conservative credentials by hardening his conservative voting record.  Many organizations rate Congressional votes, but the key rating for “conservative” votes is the American Conservative Union.  The organization selects 25 recorded votes each year (with different votes for House and Senate) as the key conservative votes, and then rates each member of the House and Senate on how conservative the member is.  Hatch’s record indicates his voting record began to harden as Bennett began to encounter problems in his reelection effort in 2009.  Hatch’s ratings by the American Conservative Union in 2010 and 2011 jumped to 100%, though his ratings in the previous 5 years were lower:  2005 = 92%;  2006 = 84%;  2007 = 76%; 2008 = 80%; 2009 = 88% (American Conservative Union).

The shift was obvious.  Columnist Dana Milbank titled a Washington Post report in July 2012 “The Missing giants: A plague of legislative dwarfism in the Senate,” in which he talked about great Senators of the past who were key figures in significant legislation of the past – Edward Kennedy, Bob Dole, Robert Byrd and Orrin Hatch.  Milbank observed

There is no longer a revered figure – a Byrd, a Dole, a Moynihan, a Chafee, a Nunn, a John Warner – whose authority could transcend party and the usual arithmetic of vote counting.  Some have died.  Some have retired.  Others, such as Hatch and John McCain, have been lost to the exigencies of survival in a hyperpartisan political system.

Hatch, Kennedy’s longtime collaborator, could have been one of today’s giants. . . . He has a long record of legislative success and a moral authority that is beyond question.  But to keep his job, he had to fight off a primary challenge from the tea party – and to prevail last month, the would-be giant diminished himself, tacking sharply to the right.  (“Dana Milbank: The missing giants,” Washington Post.)

The second step Hatch took to secure his reelection bid was to deal more aggressively and proactively with the Republican convention.  Bennett’s Republican convention strategy was focused on winning over to his side the individuals that were most likely to be chosen convention delegates.  He made a major effort to meet with party activists, previous convention delegates and elected Republican officials to persuade them to support him.  After witnessing Bennett’s failure to win delegate support at the convention, Hatch made a preemptive effort to get his own supporters selected as delegates.  His campaign focused on encouraging supporters to seek election as delegates and to getting delegates who supported Hatch elected by the caucuses.

Hatch reportedly spent $6 million on the convention delegate effort.  In a field of ten candidates for U.S. Senate, Hatch received 57.25% of the delegate vote in the first round, and in the second round which was narrowed to only two candidates, he received 59.19% of the vote, just a few votes shy of the magic 60% that would have let Hatch avoid the primary.  Although he was forced into a primary, he was successful.

The delegates to the 2012 (Hatch) convention were quite different than the delegates which ousted Bennett two years earlier.  The 2010 (Bennett) convention was 42% Tea Party supporters, while the 2012 (Hatch) convention had only about 20% Tea Party supporters.  As Howard Berkes of NPR reported, contrasting the 2010 Utah Republican convention with the 2012 convention:  “The audience wasn’t bursting with the angry Tea Party activists who dominated two years ago. The 4,000 delegates were far more moderate, and more inclined to buy Hatch’s argument that his seniority is important for a Western state with a relatively small population.” (Howard Berkes, “Utah’s Orrin Hatch Survives GOP Convention, NPR).

Of the nine candidates who ran against Hatch, Dan Liljenquist received 28% of the convention vote in the first round and in the second, picked up the remainder of the anti-Hatch votes earning 41% of the total.  Liljenquist, age 37, was just two years old when Hatch was first elected to the Senate.  His biography is thoroughly Mormon – Scandinavian immigrant pioneer heritage, grew up in Idaho Falls, attended BYU, law degree from University of Chicago, first job out of law school was with Bain Consultants (Mitt Romney’s old firm), returned to Utah, was elected State Senator for Davis County, but resigned in December 2011 after serving only two years in order to campaign for the U.S. Senate (“Dan Liljenquist,” Wikipedia).

On June 26, Hatch defeated Liljenquist in the Republican primary election by a vote of 66% to 34%.  In the primary, Hatch was endorsed by Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, conservative Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, Fox Television commentator Sean Hannity, former Republican presidential contender Steve Forbes, the Governor and Attorney General of Utah, the former football coaches of BYU and Utah State, as well as the National Rifle Association.  Liljenquist was endorsed only by Rick Santorum (who received 1.52% in the Utah presidential primary vote) and by FreedomWorks, the conservative organization headed by former Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (“U.S. Senate Election in Utah 2012,” Wikipedia; “Sen. Orrin Hatch easily wins primary election against former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist,” Deseret News).

Hatch’s success in “stacking” the Republican convention with delegates favorable to him was only part the reason for his success.  Equally as important was the waning of the angry intensity of the Tea Party.  Utah Republican political consultant LaVarr Webb described the 2012 primary process in these terms: “There isn’t the same anti-incumbent, anti-establishment fervor that existed in 2010.  The economy has changed, and people are feeling better.”  Former Senator Bennett agreed:  “The atmosphere has changed enormously.  There’s as strong a pro-incumbent wave in Utah as there was an anti-incumbent wave two years ago.  It’s a backlash.” (“Hatch Is Tested in Utah, but Tea Party Anger Cools,” New York Times).

Prospects for the General Election

The Democratic candidate who will face Hatch in the general election on November 6 this fall is Scott Howell, also a Latter-day Saint – born in Provo, attended Dixie College and the University of Utah, worked for IBM, served in the Utah State Senate (1989-2000) and eight of those years was Utah Senate Democratic Leader.  Howell won the nomination outright at the state Democratic convention, garnering 63% of the delegates vote (“Utah Democrats pick Scott Howell as candidate for U.S. Senate,” Deseret News“Scott Howell,” Wikipedia).

For Utah to elect a Democratic senator (Mormon or not) on November 6, however, would be quite unlikely.  The last time Utah Elected a Democratic senator was when Senator Frank Moss was elected to his third term in 1970 – 42 years ago.  Utah is one of the most reliably Republican states in the Union.  In the 2008 presidential election Republican John McCain received 63% of the vote; George W. Bush received 73% in 2004 and 67% in 2000.  The only poll publicly reported on the Hatch-Howell match-up, which was taken a few days before Hatch won the Republican Primary but after Howell had won the Democratic convention vote, Hatch received 63% and Howell received 29% (“Poll: Sen. Orrin Hatch maintains lead over Dan Liljenquist in GOP Primary,” Deseret News).

Howell has been an indefatigable campaigner despite the fact that odds-makers put Utah in the “Safe Republican” category (“Battle for the Senate,” Real Clear Politics), and he has been quite open regarding his Mormonism.  At the Democratic Convention this month, Mormons were more visible than usual, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid meeting with a group of Democratic Mormons during the convention.  Howell was there, and told the Deseret News of “Mormon moments” at the Democratic event and talked of carrying with him his Triple Combination (“Scott Howell says Democratic National Convention has ‘Mormon moments’ too,” Deseret News).

Whatever the outcome, Utah will still continue to have two Mormon senators.  The last non-Mormon selected to represented Utah in the U.S. Senate was George Sutherland (R-UT House of Representatives 1901-1903; Senate 1905-1907).  Sutherland is the only citizen of Utah to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court (1922-1938), and no Latter-day Saint has served as a justice on that court.


  1. Regarding the Utah Republican Convention that nominated Hatch, do you not think that the LDS Church’s encouragement for broad participation in the process influenced the proceedings?

  2. I find the $6 million figure for the convention fight in Utah a staggering sum, reflective of the continuing polarization of the political landscape, and the role of big money. I don’t have any figures, but I suspect that no one in Utah had ever spent more than a modest six figure sum at best for a convention in the past, and most much less.

  3. Mike Lee spent ~$750,000 on his primary campaign in 2010. Jim Matheson spent the same amount in his primary run in 2010.

  4. Alain, as I understand it, the $6 million figure that was referred to in the OP was just for the convention fight, and not including the primary.

  5. Given the rules of the Utah convention system, if I was an incumbent like Hatch I would go for the knock out blow too since it all but guarantees you the seat. Ultimately, the convention run is the victory for a popular Republican candidate in Utah. It does reflect the influence of big money but I’m not sure it reflects continued polarization.

    Hatch wound up spending ~$10 million just to become the Republican candidate for Senate. I agree it is obscene, but my point was Hatch isn’t the only one spending in the millions to be elected. The trend is in that direction across the board.

  6. Alain, I agree, it is a growing and troubling trend. The Citizens United case opened the floodgates to huge inflows of cash that over the long run I believe will deepen our distrust of politicians in general, and remove from many the ability to even consider running for public office. I’ve seen some references elsewhere to large contributions of superpacs into state legislature and municipal level races.

  7. Kay Atkinson King says:

    Comment on J.Stapley

    As always, the Church’s statement encouraging participation in the Utah caucuses was carefully non-partisan. It helped, however, that the caucuses for both Republicans and Democrats were held on the same night. It was not directed at Republicans.

    I suspect that the Church felt that encouraging broader participation would help moderate delegates prevail. The Church has taken more moderate positions on some issues (immigration, non-discrimination in Salt Lake City, etc.) than a large number of LDS Utah state legislators have taken.

    It is hard to believe, however, that leaders did not know that broader participation would benefit Hatch.

%d bloggers like this: