Washington (CNN) – Sen. Orrin Hatch's re-election campaign says a leading grassroots conservative organization, that's calling on the longtime Republican senator from Utah to retire, is wasting their money.
"It's a curious decision by FreedomWorks considering Orrin Hatch agrees that a limited government is essential to rebuilding our country. If FreedomWorks is anxious to spend their money, why not put it into defeating Barack Obama in the Presidential race?" says Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen in a statement to CNN.
Earlier Thursday, CNN confirmed that FreedomWorks PAC plans to launch a "Retire Orrin Hatch" campaign this Saturday at the Utah Republican Convention. The story was first reported by the Daily Caller.
FreedomWorks is a nonprofit conservative organization based in the nation's capital that helps train volunteer activists and has provided much of the organization behind the tea party movement. The group also supports conservative candidates in Republican primary and general election contests.
"It's clear that Senator Hatch is trying to capitalize on the popularity of the Tea Party movement by reinventing himself as a fiscal conservative. But his recent rhetoric and actions in favor of limited government simply do not erase decades of bad votes, costing taxpayers trillions of dollars," Russ Walker, FreedomWorks' vice president of political and grassroots campaigns, tells CNN.
"Indeed Hatch's body of work proves he cannot be trusted to consistently adhere to a fiscally conservative agenda and possible primary challengers like Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-3, UT) give conservatives in Utah and around the country a great opportunity to trade up."
Last year FreedomWorks was one of the groups that targeted three-term Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah in the months leading up that state's GOP convention. Bennett was defeated at the convention in his bid for his party's re-nomination. Conservatives Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater advanced to the party primary, with Lee winning the GOP nod and then the general election.
Hatch, who's up for re-election next year and wants to avoid Bennett's fate, has a history of reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats - a fact that obviously does not sit well with many tea party activists and other conservatives. But Hatch has taken steps since last year to buffer himself from criticism from those on the right by highlighting his conservative chops. He led the Senate GOP push for a balanced budget amendment and was a co-sponsor of a Republican amendment to repeal the new health care law. Last month he also landed a perfect score in the American Conservative Union's 2010 ratings.
In March, Hatch attended a FreedomWorks function at its new headquarters in the nation's capital.
Earlier in the year, Walker visited Utah, to meet with grassroots conservatives about possible challenges to Hatch. The group's new move against Hatch is the first major action this cycle.
"In the last 30 years, Senator Orrin Hatch has voted to increase the debt ceiling 16 times by a total of $7.6 trillion, a value equal to one half the national debt. He voted in support of the morally hazardous Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), against a ban on earmarks, in support of numerous pork-filled spending and subsidy bills, and against the inter-state sale of health insurance," adds Walker.
"Senator Hatch has and will always fight for strong pro-growth policies of lower taxes, less regulation, a conservative judiciary and a limited government – just like he always has throughout his career. He's has always represented Utah values and will continue to fight for those values each and every day," responds Hansen.
Earlier this week conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin came to Hatch's defense, saying "it would be a sad place in the Senate if we knocked you off in the Republican system in Utah."
One possible conservative challenger could be Chaffetz, who was re-elected last November to a second term. Earlier this year he told the Deseret News that a run for the Senate is "a definite maybe," and said he intends to make his decision before the autumn. But in recent weeks he's indicated he's more serious about a challenge to Hatch.
C. Boyden Gray, who is a co-chairman of FreedomWorks Foundation Board, Thursday afternoon endorsed Hatch's 2012 re-election bid.
In a letter to Hatch, Gray wrote "From containing trial lawyers' excess, to deregulation, to promoting conservative jurists to the Federal Bench, no one has supported the principles of limited government better than you for years and I hope for your continued service in the future."