At least one big name at the Tea Party-aligned organization, FreedomWorks, isn’t behind the group’s effort to oust Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch from the ticket in 2012.
The same day FreedomWorks PAC announced a “Retire Hatch” campaign, C. Boyden Gray, who co-chairs the legally separate FreedomWorks Foundation Board, took a different direction — he announced his endorsement of the Utah senator.
Gray is a former counselor to former President George H. W. Bush and is a former ambassador. Hatch’s campaign announced the endorsement several hours after FreedomWorks revealed its plan to oust Hatch.
Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, said Gray’s endorsement is personal and is the result of a long-time friendship and is not indicative of any major disagreements within the organization. He also said Gray, who chairs the foundation, is not involved with the PAC.
“This is a personal thing from Boyden, completely independent of us,” Brandon said in a phone interview. “We actually knew he was going to do this. He is close friends with Orrin…It has nothing to do with us and our decision.”
Unlike the PAC that can engage in political activities, the foundation is a non-profit that cannot. But they are still under the same umbrella and are both chaired by former House leader Dick Armey. (DOWN THE HATCH: FreedomWorks to make Orrin Hatch first 2012 target)
In a letter Gray wrote to Hatch, released by the Hatch campaign, he says, “It has been a great pleasure and honor to have worked with you for many years, when I was both in and out of government.”
Continuing, Boyden writes: “I cannot think of anyone better qualified to represent the state of Utah, to be Chairman of the Finance Committee with responsibility to reduce recent avalanche of regulatory burdens, and to provide continued and indispensable support for the Constitutionalist judicial nominees.”
The Daily Caller was the first to report that FreedomWorks PAC plans to launch a “Retire Orrin Hatch” campaign at the Utah Republican Convention on Saturday, the group’s first major move of the 2012 congressional cycle.
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.
Among grievances FreedomWorks has with Hatch 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.
During the 2010 election, FreedomWorks helped defeat 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. They appear to want to do the same thing with Hatch. (DON’T DO IT: Mark Levin dings FreedomWorks over campaign to oust Hatch)
But one critic of FreedomWorks campaign is radio talk show host Mark Levin, who offered his support to Hatch earlier this week on the air. He took to Facebook on Thursday after the news broke about the “Retire Orrin Hatch” campaign to question the group’s procedures for making endorsements.
“I’m a little confused about what their standards are to be honest with you,” Levin said in an interview, suggesting the group is inconsistent, having supported candidates — like Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — who have been in support of legislation like TARP.
As for Hatch, he said: “I have endorsed Hatch because he’s not Bob Bennett. He’s not like all these other RINOs.”
FreedomWorks isn’t officially 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.
In a phone interview with The Daily Caller, Chaffetz responded to the FreedomWorks campaign against Hatch by saying, “I have great respect for Sen. Hatch, but I think he’s been on the wrong side on a lot of major issues.”
Chaffetz predicted “there’s going to be a lot of interest in the race” and said he’s eyeing it closely.
“I’m going to continue to proceed with my decision making process and hope to make that decision after Labor Day,” he said.