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Sen. Hatch and Rep. Rangel turn back primary challenges

June 26, 2012|By Lisa Mascaro
  • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) speaks on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) speaks on Capitol Hill. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated…)

WASHINGTON – Two congressional veterans defeated career-threatening primary challenges Tuesday night as voters weighed in on races that could help define the next Congress.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah overcame a tea party challenge to win the Republican nomination, while in New York, veteran Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel fended off a bevy of challengers for the right to seek a 22nd term.

Neither race is considered an opportunity for the opposing party this fall. Utah is expected to elect a Republican senator in November, and New York’s 13th Congressional District will almost certainly stay in the Democratic column.

But the primaries provided an early glimpse of voter attitudes.

“Voters aren’t happy with Congress [and] aren’t happy with the direction of the country, but there isn’t an anti-incumbent wave that is sweeping the country,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Report in Washington. “Even though incumbents are unpopular, they continue to win their primaries.”

Hatch’s tea party opponents poured money and resources into the race in hopes of repeating their surprise 2010 victory against Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), which helped fuel the movement’s victories nationwide. Hatch, 78, had been preparing for this day ever since.

First elected to the Senate in 1976, Hatch tacked further to the right in his votes and commentary, shoring up support. In seeking a seventh term, he outspent opponent Dan Liljenquist almost 10 to 1.

Although Liljenquist, a former state senator, was a tea party favorite, Hatch was endorsed by Sarah Palin.

The Utah contest is a reminder that campaigns matter, GOP strategists said. They point to the defeat of Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, another veteran Republican challenged by the right flank. Lugar’s loss this year was attributed as much to his out-of-touch campaign as to any groundswell of tea party fervor.

The New York race offered a lesson of a different sort: that politics are, indeed, local.

Rangel, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, faced several challengers for the Democratic nomination. Since redistricting, his district includes a swath of the Bronx -- and a Latino majority.

His strongest opponent was state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, an up-and-coming Dominican American leader who had the backing of the president of the Dominican Republic.

Democrats in Washington were largely backing Rangel, 82, although President Obama refrained from endorsing him in the primary. So did former President Clinton, whose office is in Harlem, despite recording a birthday greeting for “my congressman.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is supporting him.

Rangel, a high school dropout who became a Korean War hero, a law school graduate and dean of the New York congressional delegation, has had health problems in the last year. This is expected to be his last bid for Congress.

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