Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) were elected to the United States Senate in 1976, both from solidly Republican states. They quickly became Washington fixtures and, like clockwork, were easily re-elected every six years thereafter. Ordinarily, their re-election campaigns this year would be a formality; Democrats wouldn’t really challenge (preferring to invest campaign funds in “winnable” races), Republicans wouldn’t have to kick in financial support (victory being certain).
Times have changed. Senators Lugar and Hatch face strong primary challenges from Tea Party activists, who see both veteran legislators as relics from another era. Tea Party activists in Indiana have gone so far as to petition Senator Lugar to stand down, to clear the path for one of their own. Tea Party activists in Utah are promising Sen. Hatch the same fate that befell Sen. Robert Bennett, another Washington fixture, whose political career ended in a Tea Party uprising at the Utah GOP Nominating Convention last May.
It is assumed that Sen. Hatch and Sen. Lugar will seek re-election and take their chances against Tea Party primary opponents. It’s not at all clear that they will be successful. If both men lose, moderate Democratic US Senate candidates (assuming they can be found and nominated) would stand at least a chance of winning both of these traditionally Republican states.
The Washington Republican Establishment was hoping that after the 2010 elections, the Tea Party movement would align itself with the national GOP, on the theory that you can’t conquer if you’re divided. The Tea Party didn’t get the memo. They’re looking for the GOP to align itself with them.
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