The two people least surprised by Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Senator Orrin Hatch this week are Palin and Hatch. In the Twitter and Facebook era, they became political allies the old-fashioned way: through handwritten letters and personal phone calls.
It’s an unlikely, politics-fueled friendship that’s fit for a Robert Caro book. Hatch, a soft-spoken grandfather, is one of Palin’s top outside mentors. He encourages her and cheers her. They share family stories, they discuss history, and they talk about legislation.
“It’s true,” Palin tells National Review Online. “He’s a warrior.” She respects his record, especially his work on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Hatch has frequently been an influential figure during contentious Supreme Court confirmations.
Even though she is 30 years his junior, Palin has grown to appreciate Hatch’s historical perspective on Congress, the presidency, and the conservative movement. “I respect public servants who benefited from and grew under the tutelage of Ronald Reagan,” she says.
The warmth is mutual. “She and her husband are the handsomest couple that I’ve ever met,” Hatch says, smiling, as we chat in his spacious Senate office. “They’re both top-flight people and I got angry with the mainstream media constantly running her down.”
Hatch openly acknowledges that he has long and doggedly sought Palin’s support. For him, strong personal relationships are an elemental part of politics. They do not trump his principles, he says, but they have enabled him to become a force on Capitol Hill.
Strategic relationships may also be the reason Hatch keeps his seat. Beyond Palin, the 78-year-old senator has assiduously wooed tea-party activists and conservatives over the past two years, keenly aware of the challenge he faces in Utah’s upcoming primary.
Dan Liljenquist, a conservative former state senator, has mounted a tea-party insurgency against Hatch, but he failed to topple Hatch at the state GOP’s nominating convention. Liljenquist remains the underdog as primary day, June 26, approaches. But his campaign team maintains that Palin’s endorsement isn’t a factor.
“Sarah Palin can do whatever she wants, but this doesn’t affect our race,” says Holly Richardson, Liljenquist’s campaign manager. “Endorsing Orrin Hatch is the antithesis of what she says she represents — breaking up the old guard and bringing change to Washington. But I guess they’re friends.”