Congratulations are in order for U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch and his campaign manager Dave Hansen – by all accounts they succeeded in doing what they set out to do – stack the GOP caucuses with Hatch supporters.
Months ago Hansen told me that if it is possible to influence the caucuses – to get a candidate’s supporters to the meetings and get many of those supporters elected as state delegates – then Hatch was determined to do it.
I walked through the Hatch campaign HQ several months ago with Hansen, and he showed me how they had organized the state, had six full-time coordinators working the different geographic areas and were targeting precinct meetings.
It all seemed to come together last Thursday night, as the GOP mass meetings were packed across the state.
Of course, Hatch/Hansen can’t get all of that credit.
Thomas Wright, GOP state chairman, ran for the top post promising to have the best caucus turnout ever. He and his team succeeded. And credit goes to him as well.
And don’t forget the impact – hard to quantify – of leaders of the LDS Church specifically asking members to attend the party caucus of their choice.
That had a real impact, too.
I went to my Avenues GOP mass meeting, held in the Bryant Middle School. One older gentleman came up to me asking if our meeting was typical – a rather quiet and respectful affair.
He said this was the first GOP caucus he had ever attended, although he’d lived in the neighborhood for years and knew most of the folks in the meeting.
So here was a long-time Republican who had just never bothered to attend a March caucus before.
Clearly, he wasn’t alone last Thursday, as perhaps 200,000 Utahns went to their GOP caucus meetings – by far the best showing ever.
What does this mean for Hatch, who seeks a seventh term this November?
Hansen said “it was a very good night for the senator,” although final delegate counts are still taking place.
Hansen, a Republican political operative veteran and a former state GOP chairman, said it’s too early to predict whether Hatch can win 60 percent of the 4,000 delegate votes in the April 21 state GOP convention and get the nomination outright.
“But it’s possible we can do it,” Hansen said.
Dan Liljenquist, the former state senator seen as Hatch’s chief rival, doesn’t see it like that.
“I believe we can get at least 40 percent” and force Hatch into a June GOP primary, Liljenquist told me this week.
“There’s an outside chance we get 60 percent” and eliminate Hatch at the convention, he added.
But I don’t see that happening.
There were just too many Hatch supporters at the caucus meetings, especially in moderate GOP areas.
At my Avenues caucus both of the state delegates picked promised to vote for Hatch – and in a straw poll of the 57 attendees Hatch got all but two votes, which went to Liljenquist.
State Rep. Chris Herrod, the other main Hatch opponent, told me this week that he’s not as depressed about the caucus results as he was last Thursday.
“You always get the truth from me,” said Herrod, a Provo conservative.
“Sen. Hatch did very well caucus night. Initially, it was a little overwhelming. But as I talk to the delegates, it is not as cut and dry as some may like it to be.”
Both Herrod and Liljenquist say as they are meeting with the newly-elected delegates, they’re finding that even some who said they are for Hatch are willing to listen to what the challengers are saying.
“I trust the delegates,” said Herrod. “When we get in front of them and talk issues, they are listening.
“I think it is safe to say Hatch will come out (of the convention) and into a primary,” said Herrod. “There’s no debate about that. But it is not as bleak as it seemed on Thursday night.”
Liljenquist said he’s “very confident I’ll come out of the convention and into a primary” – most likely against Hatch.
“I think we’re in really good shape. I’m meeting with delegates every day. When you challenge them, look them in the eye. . . . well, we’ll see how this turns out.”
It’s likely more than $2 million will be spent in Utah by super PACs either for or against Hatch.
The anti-Hatch group, FreedomWorks may end up spending $1 million by itself against the senator before the convention.
Hansen said he believes FreedomWorks’ tactics, however, are now turning people against it and in favor of the senator.
“They clearly failed miserably in their caucus tactic,” said Hansen, because they didn’t generate an anti-Hatch effort in the caucuses.
“Their ads, their robocalls coming into people’s homes, they turned people off. If they try the same thing on the delegates, I think they’ll get the same results – they will offend the delegates” and that likely will only help the senator, said Hansen.
“Right now things are looking good,” said Hansen. “But we have a lot of work to do.”
A sentiment echoed by Herrod and Liljenquist.