As the quest to crown the Republican nominee for the Senate reaches its end, I have noticed an interesting shift in the the thinking of My Republican Wife that I feel is worth sharing.
Had the election been held right after the state convention, MRW would have voted for State Senator Dan Liljenquist in a heartbeat. She liked how Liljenquist intended to uproot a senator who feels has been in office far to long (I happen to agree that Hatch has been in office far too long – he was in the middle of his second term when i was born). The prospect of change was her main motivator.
But she soon started to loose interest as Liljenquist began to display his Tea Party platform to the general public (having skipped out on the mass meetings, she missed the chance to become a delegate and the flood of campaign literature associated with that). The far right sentiment did not sit well with her…but she was still willing to give Liljenquist a chance.
Then the campaign antics began to kick in – specifically the whole “why won’t Hatch debate” issue, MRW began to rapidly loose interest and eventually grow to dislike Liljenquist outright.
At first the debate topic was an interesting tactic to bring up and one worth turning into a campaign issue; after all, what did Hatch have to hide? However, as the issue dragged on, and when Tea Party flag bearer Glenn Beck offered to moderate a debate, MRW felt that this (and I am translating mildly) was simply a stunt to distract from the fact that Hatch is a better overall Republican candidate. Interestingly MRFL (My Republican Father in Law) had a very similar shift in mood, noting that the best support Liljenquist could muster was, apparently, a Fox News reject.
MRW and MRFL represent a good portion of the Republican voting bloc, and the Liljenquist made a tactical error by not shifting strategy to appeal towards the general Republican voter after the convention. Of course, this speaks to two deeper issues: the flawed delegate/convention system and the radicalization of the Republican party nationally and locally.
I have discussed in great length my overall dislike of the delegate system for state level campaigns, so I don’t feel the need to expand on it much further. What I will say is that Liljenquist, in an effort to find a niche to force a primary, played up is far right credentials. Not a bad strategy considering the fact that, despite the diluting of the far-right element at this years mass meetings, the Tea Party still holds sway – as proven by the fact that they were able to force Hatch into a primary in the first place.
But the Liljenquist campaign made the same error I have seen numerous times: not being able to shift the campaign from a delegate fight to a primary fight. The Liljenquist campaign put all of its chips down in betting that they would unseat Hatch at convention, allowing themselves little to no wiggle room to moderate their message to the broader voters (in this case the general Republican voter). Liljenquist, either by choice or circumstance, painted himself into a corner – it was a dangerous bet, but one he had to take; after all, had Liljenquist unseated Hatch at convention, its good odds that Liljenquist would be the next senator from Utah.
So, I suspect a Liljenquist defeat will be forthcoming – by scaring away moderates such as MRW, the Liljenquist campaign has all but assured that there is no message that will reach them properly.