They weren’t wearing face paint, but they said they felt like they were in Braveheart.
More than 50 Tea Partiers, many from Utah, stormed the offices of the National Republican Senatorial Committee here in Washington on Monday to protest the organization’s support of Republican incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch.
No Republican has yet announced a primary challenge to Hatch, but FreedomWorks, a national Tea Party-aligned organization, has launched a “Retire Orrin Hatch” campaign in hopes of lining up behind someone they say represents the movement better.
Their beef with the NRSC? They say the organization shouldn’t openly support a candidate until the general election.
About 60 protesters started marching on Capitol Hill from the FreedomWorks offices, holding signs like “Down with Hatch” and “People choose, not the party.”
A visibly overwhelmed NRSC staffer greeted the protesters, who packed into the receptionist lobby, and asked them to take their chanting outside. (Exclusive: FreedomWorks to make Hatch first 2012 target)
After moving outside, one protester summed up the message: “We’re off your porch, stay out of our primary.”
The NRSC eventually allowed two Utahans inside to speak with Rob Jesmer, the executive director of the NRSC.
“He did say he would talk to Sen. [John] Cornyn and ask if they would consider changing the rules that would make it so they would only support the Republicans after the primary, but he said ‘I don’t think that’s going to happen,’” said Jacqueline Smith, a Utah Tea Party activist who met with Jesmer.
“He said this is the way it’s always been,” Smith said to boos from the activists gathered to listen to how the meeting went.
The committee traditionally supports incumbents. A spokesman for the NRSC said few people have worked harder than Hatch, who serves as the organization’s vice-chairman, “to help Republicans win back the Senate next year and Senator Cornyn is proud to support him.”
“We respect their views just as we respect the views of others who are strongly supporting Senator Hatch’s re-election, including Mark Levin and C. Boyden Gray who is the co-chairman of the FreedomWorks Foundation Board,” said Brian Walsh, the NRSC communications director in a statement to The Daily Caller.
FreedomWorks PAC’s “Retire Orrin Hatch” campaign is the group’s first major move of the 2012 congressional cycle. (Michele Bachmann officially enters 2012 field)
The group says targeting Hatch is symbolic. It signals the beginning of the next wave of Tea Party activists working to replace Republican incumbents they see as too moderate and out of sync with a movement stressing fiscal conservatism.
Dave Hansen, campaign manager for Hatch, has dismissed the effort, saying “If FreedomWorks is anxious to spend their money, why not put it into defeating Barack Obama in the Presidential race?”