Gov. Gary Herbert has chosen a side in the race for the Republican Senate nomination.
Sen. Orrin Hatch's campaign announced on Wednesday that Utah's governor has thrown his support behind Hatch, R-Utah, over former state lawmaker Dan Liljenquist.
"While I have great respect for Dan Liljenquist and consider him a bright talent and my friend, I will be voting for Orrin Hatch in the upcoming Republican primary election," Herbert said in a written statement.
Herbert stated that in his opinion Hatch is the type of senator Utah needs when he considers Utah's future. He noted that Hatch will be able to support a growing economy, support Hill Air Force Base and promote sensible health care reform.
"Orrin Hatch's experience and seniority in the U.S. Senate will be invaluable. Sen. Hatch's tireless work ethic, grounded in conservative Utah values and matched by his keen understanding of critical issues, makes him the best choice for Utah," Herbert said.
Hatch said in the statement that he appreciated the governor's support and called him a longtime ally in the fight for limited government and constitutional principles.
"We have spent many years working together on issues important to Utahns and the state we both love. I look forward to our continued efforts to ensure that the state of Utah, not Washington, decides what is best for its citizens," Hatch said.
Herbert stayed away from endorsing either candidate prior to the Republican state convention held in April. He instead focused on his own race where he faced multiple intraparty challengers, including state Tea Party leader David Kirkham and former congressional candidate Morgan Philpot.
Herbert, unlike Hatch, was able to hold off his challengers at the convention and avoided a primary election. Herbert defeated Philpot in the second round of balloting by netting 63 percent of the state delegate vote, crossing the 60 percent threshold needed to avoid a primary. Hatch needed 32 more votes at the convention to avoid a primary with Liljenquist.
"Gary can endorse whomever he would like," Holly Richardson, Liljenquist's campaign manager, said. "We will continue to take our message to the voters of Utah."
Richardson noted that the endorsement wasn't surprising to the Liljenquist campaign as she said that the establishment usually sticks together.
Despite not having the support of Herbert in the June 26 primary, Liljenquist does have support from some Republicans in the state Legislature. An informal poll conducted by the Legislature's auditor general found that 11 of the state's senators support their former colleague in the race, while only seven support Hatch.
In Utah County Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, and Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, have put their support behind Liljenquist.