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The tea party isn’t dead. It’s just looking down ballot. While fiscal conservatives remain split over the GOP presidential candidates, grassroots activists are coalescing around a stellar slate of limited-government candidates looking to reinforce and reenergize the right in Washington.
And in the spirit of the modern-day tea party movement, no entrenched incumbent — Democrat or Republican — is safe.
Utah was Ground Zero for the movement’s first major electoral upset. In April 2009, this column first reported on a Salt Lake City tea party protest of 2,000 Utahans who repeatedly booed GOP Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch for supporting the $700 billion TARP bank bailout. In May 2010, the three-term, 76-year-old Bennett got the boot at the GOP state convention. Young conservative lawyer Mike Lee, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, went on to win the seat.
Now, young conservative entrepreneur and renowned state pension reformer Dan Liljenquist is taking on Utah’s other big government Republican barnacle, 77-year-old Hatch. Liljenquist excelled in the private sector as a global management consultant and business strategist; he also helmed a privately owned call center company that grew from two to 1,500 employees since its 1995 founding. Liljenquist was elected to the Utah Senate in 2008, where he spearheaded state pension and Medicaid reforms that earned him the non-partisan Governing magazine’s 2011 “Public Official of the Year” award.
The 36-year, six-term Hatch was first elected in 1976 on an anti-entrenched incumbent platform. Hatch’s campaign line then against his opponent Frank Moss: “What do you call a Senator who’s served in office for 18 years? You call him home.” Now, Hatch is clinging to power after almost four decades in government — and vainly attempting to claim the tea party mantle to stave off Liljenquist’s David vs. Goliath primary challenge.
Hatch co-sponsored the $6 billion national service boondoggle and dedicated it to his good friend Teddy Kennedy, with whom he also joined hands to create the ever-expanding SCHIP health care entitlement.
He slobbered over corruptocrat Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, supported tax cheat Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner from Day One, lavished praise on Joe Biden’s manhood, and embraced and defended Attorney General Eric Holder’s nomination because, he said, “I like Barack Obama, and I want to help him if I can.”
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