Sen. Hatch faces a primary battle

SANDY, Utah - Utah Republicans denied Sen. Orrin G. Hatch a clear path to a seventh and final term Saturday, forcing the 78-year-old lawmaker into a June primary with 37-year-old former State Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Hatch fell short of the outright nomination by fewer than three dozen votes from the nearly 4,000 delegates at the party convention.

In a matter of weeks, Hatch turned the question of whether he would survive the convention into a question of whether he would reach the 60 percent threshold to earn the nomination. Despite the setback, Hatch holds a significant fund-raising edge in what has become the stiffest challenge since his election to the Senate in 1976.

"A few months ago, a lot of people weren't giving me a chance," Hatch said. "So I feel good. I consider it a victory with everything that happened in the past."

Hatch argued that he was the only candidate who had the ability to enact the GOP's priorities from day one of the next congressional session. "I'm a tough old bird, and I've never felt more eager," he said. - AP

Obama talks up student-loan rate

WASHINGTON - Eager to energize young voters, President Obama is depicting Republicans as obstacles to an affordable college education, using his Internet and radio address Saturday to preview an argument he will take on the road this week to university campuses in states crucial to his reelection.

"This is a question of values," Obama said. "We cannot let America become a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of people struggle to get by."

Obama is calling on Congress to extend a law that cut interest rates on a popular federal loan program for low- and middle-income undergraduates. If the law expires, the rates will double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

While Obama blames Republicans for voting against new ways to make college more affordable for middle-class families, it was House Democrats who cut interest rates on the school loans in 2007 and included an expiration provision that placed the looming increase in the middle of an election year.

- AP

Balls may be first tsunami debris

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Federal scientists said Saturday that a volleyball and soccer ball that washed ashore on an island may be the first pieces of debris to arrive in Alaska from last year's tsunami in Japan.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that the sports balls were spotted by a radar technician on Middleton Island. His wife traced the writing on the balls to a Japanese school in an area hit by the tsunami.

Doug Helton of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that the balls were one of the first pieces of debris that could be traced back to Japan - and made it possible to return them to their owner. - AP