Ever since tea party activists knocked off incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett in the Republican state convention two years ago, one question has dominated the political buzz in the Beehive State: Can they do it again? Can they take out Sen. Orrin Hatch?
The answer came Saturday. No, they can't.
Hatch not only survived the convention, he nearly won the 60 percent of the delegate vote necessary to win nomination outright and avoid a primary. But he fell 32 votes short, so he will face former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist in the Republican primary June 25.
As readers of this page know, we're no fans of Utah's system of caucuses and conventions to select candidates because it empowers relatively small numbers of ideological zealots who usually are more extreme in their views than the majority of their party. In this case, because Hatch turned back the assault on his candidacy by FreedomWorks, an ultraconservative pressure group with big money, the system has left Republican voters with two good candidates. One is Hatch, the 78-year-old six-term incumbent. The other is Liljenquist, a bright, well-educated former Utah legislator who led successful fights for reform of the state retirement system and Medicaid on Utah's Capitol Hill.
One reason for the convention result, however, was the plea from many community leaders, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for Utahns to turn out to the caucuses earlier this year. This produced a surge of new blood for both parties and blunted the effectiveness of entrenched pressure groups.
Still, a system that replaced caucuses with more emphasis on party primaries would be preferable.
The big surprise Saturday was Saratoga Springs' Mayor Mia Love's trouncing of former state Rep. Carl Wimmer in the contest for the GOP nomination in the new 4th Congressional District. Wimmer, a darling of the tea party, had all the usual suspects from the Legislature's Patrick Henry Caucus in his corner, but Love, who gave a rousing speech to the convention, took him out with 70 percent of the vote.
This sets up an intriguing race between Love and incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah's only Democrat to hold federal elected office. We say incumbent with an asterisk because Matheson will be running in a new and heavily Republican district. With Mitt Romney at the head of the national GOP ticket and Love a proven spellbinder, she could win. If she does, she would become the first black woman Republican member of Congress in the nation's history. And from Utah!
Diversity from the Utah GOP. Wonders never cease.