It’s official: Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is the first Republican incumbent who will be targeted by one of the nation’s most influential Tea Party-aligned organizations.
FreedomWorks PAC plans to launch a “Retire Orrin Hatch” campaign at the Utah Republican Convention this Saturday, the group’s first major move of the 2012 congressional cycle, The Daily Caller has learned.
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.
“The bottom line is Hatch doesn’t represent the state of Utah,” said Russ Walker, the vice president of political and grassroots campaigns for FreedomWorks PAC. “The state of Utah is far more fiscally conservative than Orrin Hatch is. It’s an opportunity to pick up a seat, it’s an opportunity to find somebody who is better.”
Among the grievances FreedomWorks has with Hatch, they say, is a legislative history of voting to increase the debt ceiling 16 times, voting in support of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) legislation and voting against a ban on earmarks.
By returning to Utah, the group, chaired by former House leader Dick Armey, is hoping to repeat success they had in the state in 2010.
(SERIOUSLY? FreedomWorks: Huntsman not a serious candidate)
They played an integral role there in defeating former Republican Sen. Bob Bennett — the first Republican incumbent senator in the country to lose because of the energy of the Tea Party movement — at the state’s GOP convention last year.
The organization was also instrumental in helping the newly elected Utah Sen. Mike Lee, a darling of conservatives, win the Republican nomination there.
But staffers at FreedomWorks say they aren’t backing anyone else just yet against Hatch, though several candidates, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz and state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, have signaled they may get in the race. Walker said the organization has met “with several people” considering a run and they’re “confident we’re going to have a good candidate.”
Hatch is well aware of the threat he faces from Tea Party groups and has made an attempt at stopping this from happening. He visited the D.C. offices of FreedomWorks earlier this year to mingle with the staff during an office party.
(NO GO: FreedomWorks: Tea Party may stay home if Romney nominated)
“He has reached out to us a lot this year. Orrin Hatch is a nice guy,” Walker said. “He really genuinely is a nice guy…but at the end of the day, I think the state of Utah could do better.”
A spokeswoman for Hatch said Thursday that the senator was not available for an interview.
“If FreedomWorks is anxious to spend their money, why not put it into defeating Barack Obama in the Presidential race?” said Dave Hansen, campaign manager for Hatch. “There is no other person, in recent history, who has been such a major affront to the Constitution and conservative values, than our current President.”
Hansen said Hatch has a lifetime “90 percent conservative rating from the American Conservative Union, scores a 100 percent rating from Club for Growth in the last Congress, and received the highest ranking in Congress by the National Taxpayers Union.”
And in a swipe at the Washington D.C.-based FreedomWorks, Hansen said Hatch’s focus is “is on the ideas and values of Utahns throughout the state, not on the actions of out of state interest groups.”
Hatch has the support of some conservatives, including talk show host Mark Levin, who offered his support to Hatch this week.
“It would be a sad place in the Senate if we knocked you off in the Republican system in Utah,” Levin said on his radio show.
FreedomWorks will have a booth at the Utah Republican convention this weekend. Once the campaign gets started, they plan to do events and town hall meetings “to educate” people on Hatch’s voting record.