Utah senate race draws nationwide attention

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The upcoming Senate race is attracting significant attention as state, national and local parties get involved.

Students are campaigning on both sides — some as elected delegates that represented their precincts at the state convention in April.

Andrew Bates, a junior in business management, began volunteering for Sen. Orrin  Hatch’s campaign in January.

“It’s been an intense race because people have intense feelings about what’s happening in the country right now,” Bates said. “It’s been an interesting race because a lot more people are involved. Normally young people don’t care too much about this, but I have seen a lot of student involvement.”

In addition to incumbent Hatch, former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, has attracted fans on campus. A BYU Facebook group, Students Stand With Dan, has more than 200 members.

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Dan Liljenquist, Republican candidate for Utah's Senate seat, at a Provo town hall meeting last month.
Matthew Behunin, digital media chair for BYU Republicans, said he volunteers for the Liljenquist campaign.

“[I can see this as] old versus new,” Behunin said. “Dan is 37, Hatch is 77. Dan was in the state senate for three years, Senator Hatch has been there for 35 years … I really think he can help fix the economy, and fix some of the financial problems especially that we’re facing right now.”

Bates attributes student involvement to a can-do attitude.

“There’s a lot of passion and feeling, students are recognizing that we can shape the way that our country goes and they want to be a part of that,” Bates said. “They want to get involved and do whatever they can.”

Evelyn Call, communications director of the Hatch Election Committee, attributes the media spotlight to recent history.

“I think it has something to do with Senator Bennett’s campaign in 2010, being not elected through the convention,” Call said.

Two years ago, incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett surprised Utahns by losing the Republican candidacy.

“Senator Hatch said, you know, I probably need to start my campaign a little bit earlier and put together a larger staff to make sure that doesn’t occur in the 2012 election,” Call said.

Utah’s Senate race is also contested because, if re-elected, Hatch’s seniority puts him in a position to become chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has released a statement endorsing Hatch, used by a video in the Hatch campaign, saying Hatch’s leadership of the Finance Committee, would be “critical” to achieving his economic objectives.

Two super PACs — a political action committee to which individuals and organizations can donate freely — FreedomWorks and Freedom Path, are contributing to the fray.

Both candidates, as well as the public, have expressed frustration at times about the negative external advertising coming from the super PACs.

“There’s a lot of outside interest in this race,” Liljenquist said at a recent town hall meeting in Provo. “I think I was the most damaged by this. I don’t have millions of dollars to go on the air to defend myself. FreedomWorks came in and FreedomPath came in on the other side.”

Call said the problem starts in the party’s inability to have a say in the advertising.

“To be honest, we would have been happy with no outside interests coming in,” Call said. “The problem is you can’t control that message. By law there is no coordination between our campaign and their organization, so they control the message. Sometimes it can be frustrating.”

 

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