Washington (CNN) - FreedomWorks says it's still committed to finding a consensus fiscal conservative candidate to challenge longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, even though a FreedomWorks board member has endorsed Hatch.
Monday morning the Hatch campaign was touting an endorsement by Steve Forbes, the former two-time GOP presidential candidate, CEO of Forbes, and a vice chairman of the FreedomWorks Foundation board.
"I feel it a privilege to endorse your reelection effort next year. I have known you since the late 1970's when you first came to the Senate and courageously battled anti-growth, anti-business legislation being vigorously pushed by Big Labor," said Forbes in a letter to Hatch that was released by the senator's campaign. "That was not fashionable in Washington in those days, but you were not to be deterred. Your pro-growth, pro-entrepreneurial efforts continue to this day."
"Steve Forbes has been a leading advocate of a lower taxes, pro-growth, and pro-entrepreneurial economic strategy and I am thankful to receive his support for my reelection," said Hatch, in a statement.
But FreedomWorks President & CEO Matt Kibbe tells CNN that "every member of the board has their own opinion" and adds that "the FreedomWorks board is like the tea party movement, nobody tells anybody else what to do."
Hatch, who is running next year for a seventh term in the Senate, is facing opposition from some in the tea party movement, including FreedomWorks, a major DC-based conservative grassroots group that has provided much of the organization behind major tea party events, and that among other things, supports fiscal conservative candidates.
Last year FreedomWorks was one of the tea party affiliated 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 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. Earlier this year he landed a perfect score in the American Conservative Union's 2010 ratings.
Last month Hatch received support from an unlikely person, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a favorite of many in the tea party movement.
"To your particular point about Senator Orrin Hatch, he is doing good in terms of trying to get a balanced budget and he has been for the last couple of decades. He has pushed hard for some fiscal reforms that we have got to see implemented," Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, said on the Fox News Channel.
And last month Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah announced he would not launch a primary challenge against Hatch. The two-term congressman, who represents Utah's 3rd Congressional district, enjoys strong support from many tea party activists and other grassroots conservatives.
Kibbe was in Utah last weekend to meet with two potential GOP challengers to Hatch: Utah tea party organizer David Kirkham and state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. The Hatch campaign criticized the trip, saying Utah voters wouldn't be swayed by outsiders "who think they can tell us what to do."
Kibbe points out that Forbes is also not from Utah and asks whether the Hatch campaign is "for or against outsiders coming in and telling Utah residents what to do."
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