Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) appears likely to have fended off what seemed not too long ago to be a very viable Tea Party challenge. The Utah Republican, who has pledged that this would be his last term, did well in his state's GOP caucus last night, nearly two years after Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) famously lost his bid for reelection.
But while Hatch's good showing in and of itself was surprising, so too was the explanation for why former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist didn't do better. From the AP:
Based on media reports from around the state and postings on Twitter from caucus attendees, many attendees were frustrated by the tea party-affiliated group FreedomWorks, which spent more than $600,000 on advertising attacking Hatch. That could pose a problem for Liljenquist, because many people associate him with the group.
Liljenquist echoed those concerns and said he wants to make sure delegates understand that the support given to him by FreedomWorks doesn't mean he is beholden to the group or even the broader tea party movement. Liljenquist was named the group's "Legislative Entrepreneur of the Year" in 2011.
The notion that FreedomWorks' aggressive politics can occasionally turn off voters isn't all that shocking; that it could turn off voters in deeply red Utah is more so. The group's executive director, Russ Walker, downplayed the reports in the same AP article. Yet Liljenquist's decision to distance himself publicly from the Tea Party group speaks to how the climate has changed here from just two years ago.