I was a little surprised at the news that Sarah Palin had endorsed Orrin Hatch. It’s not that I had expected her to endorse Dan Liljenquist, just that I would not have expected her to see an entrenched, entitled incumbent as the type of person who could fix what’s wrong in Washington. As I thought about it however I realized that there were a few things that might show her endorsement to be a very hollow one to begin with. First and foremost being that she probably knows absolutely nothing about Dan Liljenquist. In other words her endorsement of “Mr. Balanced Budget” is probably as meaningful as Mitt Romney’s endorsement which came back before Senator Hatch even had a challenger. Here are a few key things to consider about this endorsement and what it shows about this race.
Palin endorsed Hatch because he asked for her endorsement (see here). I strongly suspect that Dan Liljenquist never did. What is really happening with this race is that the reality behind it is quite different than the way it is being painted. Hatch and the GOP establishment players are painting this and every other challenge to an incumbent as a tea-party extremist challenge to the status quo. I will not make any attempt to argue how true that is for the various races around the country but let me illustrate the differences between how this race is framed versus what is actually happening.
Supporters of the Hatch campaign have been pushing the narrative that Dan Liljenquist was pushed into the race by the persuasion of tea party groups like Freedom Works. (I heard a Hatch campaign staffer say that prior to the caucuses.) While it is true that having Liljenquist run is viewed very favorably by Freedom Works I have seen nothing to suggest that Dan has made any attempt to ally himself with them or any other organization.
Supporters of Hatch have argued that this challenge by Dan Liljenquist is being fueled by money from groups outside of Utah. It’s true that there are national groups like Freedom Works who have invested money making the case against Orrin Hatch but the reality is that much more money is being spent from outside Utah in support of Orrin Hatch than against him. In fact, besides spending by other groups, Orrin himself does the vast majority of his campaign fundraising outside the state. So yes, this race is being funded from outside the state but that is true of the pro-Hatch side even more than the anti-Hatch side.
Finally, the Hatch campaign has tried to portray Dan Liljenquist as a caniddate from the tea-party fringe of the GOP but it is Orrin Hatch who has been seeking to adopt the tea party mantle for two years and has been seeking endorsements from prominent tea party icons and organizations (hence the request for the Palin endorsement). On the other hand, Dan Liljenquist has not made any attempt to cozy up to the tea party or run under its banner. He has instead run his campaign as an accomplished solver of fiscal challenges – something that Orrin Hatch can only talk about while pretending that his record does not tell a very different story (that’s why he is so keen to be known as Reagan’s “Mr. Balanced Budget” – as if staying in Washington for decades after that statement was made would have no chance of changing him).
In short, Orrin Hatch has been trying to adopt the tea-party brand while complaining that many tea party activists prefer Liljenquist. He has also been funding his campaign from outside the state and gathering endorsements from national political figures while telling the people of Utah that outsiders were trying to steal his office from him.
If, as Orrin Hatch says, it is “Utah’s time to lead” in 2012 we will need to have two senators in Washington representing Utah – that would mean that we need to send Dan Liljenquist to join Mike Lee because Orrin Hatch is obviously confused about where Utah is anymore. (Hint: it’s not 104 Hart Office Building in D.C.)