In the States: Where Beltway Power Means Nada

Poor Orrin Hatch. In his home state of Utah, the six-term U.S. senator just can’t get no respect, thanks to the Tea Party movement.

As we mentioned yesterday, the maneuverings at yesterday’s Utah Republican Party convention yielded Hatch a primary challenger — his first in decades. On June 26, Hatch will face state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, having fallen short of the 60 percent threshold of delegate votes he needed to win the nomination outright at the state party confab. The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that Hatch lost his nomination battle by fewer than 50 votes, leading Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian to note that “Washington clout means nothing beyond the Beltway.” From Mahtesian’s analysis of Hatch’s turn of fortune:

The time when members of Congress could wave their chairmanships and pork-barreling prowess at constituents to win re-election is coming to an end. Washington is so discredited that almost no one cares anymore.

Hatch highlighted the prospect of his ascension to the Finance Committee chairmanship but it barely moved the dials for convention delegates. Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar’s heavyweight resume hasn’t saved him from a tough intra-party challenge this year either.

Think back to 2010. Among the powerful losers: the Senate Agriculture Committee chair and, in the House, the chairmen of the Budget and Armed Services committees.

For Hatch, it could have been worse. Under the idiosyncratic rules of the Utah G.O.P., he could have lost the nomination outright, as former Sen. Bob Bennett did in 2010, when Freedom Works mustered the requisite number of delegate votes for Mike Lee, who sits today in Bennett’s old seat.

Orrin Hatch’s dilemma offers a bit of subtext to the vexations faced by national leaders of the G.O.P. as the presidential election approaches. It’s really all of a piece with the New York Times story we looked at yesterday, in which party pooh bahs wrung their hands at the raft of right-wing, anti-woman, anti-environmental, anti-immigrant and, really, anti-anybody but rich, white men legislation being served up in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country.

Tough to win swing voters with that kind of stuff, and the outcomes of presidential elections turn not on the votes of Tea Party fulminators or ardent progressives, but on those of suburbanites whose days are more consumed with making ends meet than on the philosophical underpinnings of power politics.