Former Utah state senator Dan Liljenquist captured 28 percent of delagate votes in the first round at the Utah GOP State Convention last April, winning enough support to confront Sen. Orrin Hatch for a primary election this month.
The 37-year-old challenger will go against 78-year-old Sen. Hatch June 26 in a historic primary election. The last time the six-term senator participated in a primary was 1976. The Washington heavyweight touts big-name endorsements including 2012 presidential GOP nominee Mitt Romney, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and television host Sean Hannity, to name a few.
During his time in the Utah legislature, Liljenquist reformed Utah’s pension system in 2010. His bill restructured pensions for public employees, including doing away with pension plans for Utah legislators.
Republican majority leader in the Utah House of Representatives, Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, said Utah has one of the youngest populations in America, making political engagement critical.
“The demographic of 18-25 historically has a very low voter turnout,” Lockhart said, “which means the voice of that population isn’t necessarily heard like it should be. So, the more we can encourage young people to get involved in politics, and at the very least voting, I think that’s a very positive thing.”
Younger voters dominated the 2008 election cycle with 45 percent of voters between ages 18-29 favoring the democratic ticket and 26 percent supporting the Republican Party — a major generational shift in party preference compared to 12 years ago when young voter party affiliation was almost evenly split, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan and non-profit organization.
“We’d like to see young Conservatives and young Republicans get more motivated, more involved,” Lockhart said.
So, why is voting so important? Utah Gov. Gary Herbert told student voters to get involved.
“It’s your future and the way the federal government is going, we’re spending your future and probably your kid’s future,” Gov. Herbert said. “Try figuring out some $15.3 trillion in debt — you have to spend $10.46 million a day for 4,000 years to equal the debt we’ve accumulated in this country today.”
An early voting option is available for this primary election — June 12 through June 22.
“You’re going to wake up one day and say, ‘Gosh, how did we get into this mess?’ Well, because of your apathy and ignorance,” Gov. Herbert said.
The former Utah state senator made clear Sen. Hatch’s refusal for a debate before election time — including Liljenquist setting up a mock debate with a cardboard cut-out of Sen. Hatch. Dave Hansen, Hatch’s campaign manager, viewed the the event as a “stunt” done by a candidate trailing in the polls.
Liljenquist ridiculed Sen. Hatch for shrugging off invitations for a television debate before the primary election. Seeing the two candidates side-by-side, a stark difference in generations would be apparent.
Sen. Hatch agreed to a live radio debate with Liljenquist on KSL radio (102.7 FM or 1160 AM). The Doug Wright talk show will host the hour-long debate June 15 at 9 a.m.