Washington (CNN) - Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who may face a primary challenge next year, apparently now has one less thing to worry about.
The Tea Party Express, a national Tea Party organization that last year helped oust Bob Bennett, Utah's other GOP senator, as he unsuccessfully tried to win his party's re-nomination, says they have no plans as of now to target Hatch next as he gears up for re-election in 2012.
Sal Russo, the Tea Party Express's chief strategist, tells CNN that "Hatch has been a good friend and a solid conservative. He's been a good solid conservative vote in the Senate since 1976."
But Russo adds that "we haven't made any judgments yet about any Senate races."
"I first got to know Hatch in 1976 when Ronald Reagan was running for president and we were trying to find Republicans that were willing to stand up to incumbent President Gerald Ford and stand with Reagan and we were having trouble in Utah. Orrin came forward and said I'll do it. So he was our state chairman and I think we ended up sweeping the Utah delegation at the convention, and we've been good friends ever since.
Russo says the the platform Hatch ran on in 1976, when he first won election to the Senate, is similar to the goals of the today's Tea Party movement.
Russo's comments were first reported by the National Review.
Responding to the news, Hatch told CNN that "I'm deeply humbled and grateful to Sal Russo and the Tea Party Express for these very kind words of support. Serving the people of the great state of Utah each and every day is my highest priority. I won't ever take that privilege and honor for granted and will continue to work my hardest over the next two years to earn their support once again at the ballot box."
The six term senator has a history of reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats, which may not sit well with many Tea Party activists and other conservatives. But since the midterm election, Hatch has taken steps to buffer himself from criticism from those on the right by highlighting his conservative chops. Just this he week he led the Senate GOP push for a balanced budget amendment and was a co-sponsor of an Republican amendment to repeal the new health care law.
One person who may be considering mounting a primary challenge to Hatch is Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who was re-elected last November to a second term. Chaffetz office says the congressman is concentrating now on his legislative duties and won't make any decision for a number of months.
Last year Tea Party Express and other conservative groups targeted the three-term Bennett, partially because of his support of the the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and his sponsorship of a bipartisan heath care reform bill. At the Utah GOP state convention last June he lost his bid for his party's re-nomination. Tea Party Express then backed conservative Mike Lee, one of the two GOP candidates who advanced to the party primary. Lee subsequently won the Republican primary and then the general election.
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