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Rangel, Hatch Show Incumbency Still a Trump Card Rangel, Hatch Show Incumbency Still a Trump Card

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CAMPAIGN 2012

Rangel, Hatch Show Incumbency Still a Trump Card

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, along with his wife, Elaine, thanks his supporters at a party in Salt Lake City after his primary win over former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist.(AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

It turns out the old bulls still have some fight left.

Within minutes late Tuesday night, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., were both declared winners as they advanced past the stiffest electoral challenges of careers that have spanned a combined nearly 80 years.

The twin primary victories ensure that two of Congress's most grizzled veterans will still roam the Capitol halls in 2013. But the near-simultaneous wins also underscore that even as anti-incumbent sentiment has gripped the electorate, and congressional approval ratings have sagged into the teens, if not single digits, that knocking off a powerful veteran lawmaker remains a tough undertaking.

For all the talk this year of a hostile environment for incumbents, only a handful of House members and a single senator (Richard Lugar of Indiana) have fallen to outsider challengers. And that is with about two-thirds of House primaries already in the books.

In the end, Hatch easily dispatched tea party challenger Dan Liljenquist on Tuesday, leading 69 percent to 31 percent when AP called the race. And Rangel, less than two years after standing in the well of the House to be censured by his colleagues for ethical lapses, stood tall again. He topped a five-person field to win the Democratic nomination for a 22nd term. Both Hatch, 78, and Rangel, 82, are now expected to cruise through the November general election.

Their wins on Tuesday, although different in many respects, were both aided by the advantages of incumbency.

From the start, Hatch set out to avoid the fate that befell his former fellow senator from Utah, Bob Bennett, who was unceremoniously dumped at the GOP state convention two years ago. Hatch effectively ran 2,000 mini-campaigns this spring, electing a slate of friendly delegates to the state's convention. In short, instead of trying to persuade the hard-right activists that typically populate conventions that he deserved a seventh term, he found himself a new set of voters.

He had the resources to do so by raising more than $7 million since the start of 2011. His fundraising network dwarfed that of Liljenquist, 37, who was literally just a baby when Hatch was elected to the Senate.

Rangel, meanwhile, faced an even trickier challenge: new district lines that accelerated the steady growth of the Latino population in his Harlem-based seat. He was challenged by a rising Latino power, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. But, just as he did in 2010, Rangel faced off against a field of multiple challengers who splintered the anti-incumbent vote, and he took advantage.

For Rangel, the wily 40-plus year House veteran, it was more than enough of an opening.

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