BOUNTIFUL — Former state Sen. Dan J. Liljenquist plans to talk to as many Utah voters as possible as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by six-term incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch.
“Utahns want leadership in Washington, D.C., to change the entitlement programs that are projected to eat up all of our budget,” Liljenquist said.
Liljenquist, 37, on Wednesday announced his formal intention to run against Hatch, 77.
Liljenquist will crisscross the state in the next few weeks, attending town hall meetings to hear Utahns’ concerns and to talk about his ideas on how to reduce the nation’s debt.
He resigned as state senator in December, signaling his intention to run against Hatch.
“God bless (Hatch’s) service to our country and our state,” Liljenquist said.
If Liljenquist, Hatch or any other Republican candidate receives more than 60 percent of the Republican delegates’ votes at the state Republican caucus meeting in April, a primary election will not be held in June.
If no candidate receives the majority, the top two candidates will face off in June, said Rusty Cannon, Davis County Republican Party chairman.
Liljenquist said changes made in Washington in the next few years will directly affect him, “because I’m going to live through the next 40 years. I want to make a difference. I want to change the course of this nation and Utah.”
Liljenquist, an attorney and businessman, was elected as state senator in 2008.
In October 2010, Governing Magazine named him one of the “Best and Brightest in State Government” because of his work overhauling the state’s Medicaid program and the state’s pension system for public employees.
FreedomWorks, a national advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., in December named Liljenquist as its Legislative Entrepreneur of the Year.
“We’ve been opposing Hatch for a while now, and we’re excited that Dan (Liljenquist) entered the race,” said Max Pappas, executive director of FreedomWorks PAC.
Pappas said his organization, which has strong “fiscal ties with Tea Party groups throughout Utah,” will talk to “our activists in Utah” before they make any decisions regarding endorsements.
Liljenquist is the first to formally challenge Hatch. Other potential challengers, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, chose to seek re-election to the House instead of challenging Hatch.
Hatch’s election campaign manager released a statement concerning Liljenquist’s announcement.
“It is perplexing to me why a state senator who hasn’t even finished his first term of service in the state and running on the platform of entitlement reform would want to challenge Sen. Hatch,” Dave Hansen wrote in the email.
Hatch’s position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is “instrumental in getting our nation’s fiscal house in order,” the email states.
Liljenquist will not be able to have any influence over fiscal policy if elected to office, Hansen wrote.
Hatch was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976. He has served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Labor and Human Resource Committee. He also supports a balanced budget amendment for the United States.
Liljenquist said he resigned from his state Senate seat because state law does not allow him to fundraise during the legislative session, which begins in two weeks.
“I agree with that law,” he said.
Liljenquist also acknowledges he is young, “but Orrin Hatch was young at one time, too.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.