Hatch (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)Across the country, Republicans are fighting off tea party threats while Democrats are dragged down by anti-incumbent sentiment and a president who remains unpopular in many competitive states.
But on Tuesday, Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is expected to defy those trends and win re-election handily, with experience and a novice challenger helping to boost his odds. Similarly, Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel certainly has years of congressional service on his side--41 to be exact--and faces lesser-known opponents, but redistricting changes could thwart the Congressman's chances of winning.
In Utah, Hatch faces a primary challenge from former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who has amassed tea party support, an endorsement from Rick Santorum and boasts other high-profile backing. Hatch's detractors view him as an establishment figure who has slipped into moderate territory after 35 years in office. That line of criticism is not uncommon in a tea party vs. incumbent Republican primary, such as in the race that led to Sen. Dick Lugar's loss to tea partier Richard Mourdock in Indiana. But the same fate doesn't seem likely to befall Hatch.
Even though Liljenquist's arguments and conservative ideology have enjoyed wide appeal, Hatch is likely to win due to several factors: the senator is much better funded than his challenger; Hatch remains well-known throughout every corner of the state; and Hatch's challenger, a one-term state senator, has limited experience and pull statewide. The Republican incumbent has maintained support in the face of a potentially treacherous tea party challenge, receiving endorsements from tea partiers such as Sarah Palin, mainstream Republicans such as Mitt Romney and conservatives such as the American Conservative Union.
An independent public poll released Saturday by Deseret News/KSL-TV found Hatch leading Liljenquist among registered voters by 60 to 32 percent. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. And winning the Republican nomination in Utah virtually guarantees the party a victory in November, given the conservative nature of the state.
Hatch has been arguing that his experience, seniority and potential chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee are the main reasons why voters should send him back to Congress, arguments similar to those being made by House veteran Rangel, 82, in New York.
Rangel's four decades of service have led to several high-profile endorsements for his re-election race, including popular Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Ed Koch, borough presidents, unions, House colleagues and other prolific New York politicians.
That support, combined with Rangel's experience, well-versed campaign and name recognition, is pushing the incumbent to the top of the Bronx-area 13th District Democratic primary.
Still, redistricting has increased the number of Hispanics in the new 13th District where Rangel, who is black, is running. This year is the first time Rangel is running in a Latino-majority district and Rangel's biggest challenger, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, has drawn strong Hispanic support, not to mention aid from super PAC's opposed to Rangel. Three candidates in addition to Espaillat are running in the primary, further diluting the anti-Rangel vote. But the fact that all three challengers are black could stand to lower Rangel's support among African-Americans.
Meanwhile, critics of Rangel continue to make an issue of his ethical improprieties. In December 2010, the House of Representatives censured him for multiple ethics violations, including failing to report and pay taxes on rental income, improperly soliciting donations and improperly running a campaign office. Despite spending money on legal fees and fending off bad press over the charges in 2010, Rangel easily won his Democratic primary that September by nearly 30 percentage points and emerged victorious in November.
But, it remains to be seen whether the district's new demographics will help spell the end of Rangel's storied career on Tuesday. The winner of Tuesday's race is virtually guaranteed to win the highly-Democratic seat in November.
In addition to Utah and New York, primaries Tuesday are being held in Colorado and Oklahoma and select runoffs are taking place in South Carolina and South Dakota.