Utah conducts last primaries before parties’ big dances

The primary/caucus season draws to a close Tuesday as Utah voters select the final batch of candidates for the November election.

The Texas primary pushed presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney across the 1,144-delegate threshold needed to secure the nomination at the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa, Fla.

All major candidates save for Ron Paul abandoned their campaigns. Paul, the U.S. representative from Texas, said he wasn’t actively traveling the campaign trail, focusing instead on state party conventions leading up to the RNC event in Tampa.

Utah has 40 delegates up for grabs.

Romney already has 1,433 delegates, RealClearPolitics.com reported.

One race Congress watchers are tracking is the primary match-up between veteran GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch and Dan Liljenquist, a former state senator.

Hatch has spent 36 years representing the Beehive state in Washington, which his critics say is long enough. Tea Party advocates have targeted Hatch, arguing he is too moderate.

Adam Brown, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University political science professor, told the Salt Lake City Weekly News Tuesday’s primary could turn on turnout.

“Now that Romney has already clinched the nomination, many Republicans will be less motivated to turn out [Tuesday],” Brown said. “And one thing we do know is that when turnout declines, it tends to be the moderates who stay home and the ideologues who turn out.”

Besides a record that includes reforming Utah’s public employee pension plan and work on healthcare-related issues, Liljenquist picked up the endorsement of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who dropped out of the GOP presidential campaign in April, Yahoo! reported.

“Dan Liljenquist is the stronger conservative in this race,” Santorum said in an e-mail to supporters of Patriot Voices, his new advocacy group. “I’ve known Orrin Hatch for years and believe he is a very good man, but in a deeply conservative state like Utah, we must elect authentic conservatives. I believe Dan Liljenquist is that candidate.”

After the state party convention, in which Hatch collected 59 percent support, some Tea Party movement activists announced their support for Hatch, including 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who caught some flak for her endorsement, Yahoo! said. The American Conservative Union also endorsed Hatch.

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