About 150 Republicans met in the gymnasium of Washington Elementary Thursday night with the fate of one of them — Sen. Orrin Hatch — in the balance, hinging on the outcome of that gathering and more than 2,000 others like it around the state.
All told, more than 125,000 Republicans flooded into their party caucuses Thursday, more than doubling the record set last year.
After 36 years, Hatch was facing perhaps his gravest political threat, but spent more than a year fighting back, mobilizing supporters to attend the caucuses and by early and anecdotal reports, appears to have fared well.
“I’ve been told that things went fairly well. Actually I’ve been told that things went really well, but who knows,” Hatch told The Tribune. “I’m a tough old bird and nobody is going to push me around without a fight.”
Republican caucus-goers elected 4,000 state delegates, who will gather April 21 to vote on the party’s nominee.
Dan Liljenquist, a former state senator and Hatch’s leading rival among the 10 GOP challengers, lost the battle in his own Bountiful Precinct 12, with Hatch sweeping all three delegates available there.
Slightly more than half of the crowd supported Hatch — and rules required all delegates to eventually win by a majority through numerous rounds of elimination. Hatch supporters used their slight majority to methodically eliminate pro-Liljenquist candidates, as Liljenquist merely shook his head.
Liljenquist even lost the last available delegate on a 69-68 vote.
One of the winning Hatch delegates, Gordon Hall, said, “We need someone with his background and experience, and not some Johnny-come-lately.”
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UT caucus RT @klreeve Majority in my Caucus want Orrin Hatch to spend another term in the Senate. Isn't 36 years enough?
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) March 16, 2012
— Deseret News (@DeseretNews) March 16, 2012
— Sissy Willis (@SissyWillis) March 16, 2012
Orrin Hatch poised to beat FreedomWorks’ candidate: Orrin Hatch poised to beat FreedomWorks' candidate http://t.co/48URgstG
— LibertasLogos (@LibertasLogos) March 16, 2012
Utah GOP caucuses draw up to 10 times regular attendance! http://t.co/uwVWxLYh
— Rachel Murdock (@HawaiianAngel10) March 16, 2012