Washington (CNN) - Even as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah continues to tout his conservative credentials, a series of meetings are being held in his home state by Tea Party and other conservative activists to begin the process of finding a consensus candidate to primary challenge the six term senator when he's up for re-election next year.
Two top officials from FreedomWorks, a leading grassroots organization, are in Utah Thursday to meet with various tea party groups and possible candidates. Russell Walker, FreedomWork's vice president for political and grassroots campaigns, says the meetings are to analyze the race and to figure out "whether we have a real challenger to Hatch, and if we do have that challenger, what the next step in the process will be."
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 organization also supports conservative candidates and last year it was one of the groups that targeted three-term Republican Sen. Bob Bennett in the months leading up Utah'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, which 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 recently 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.
Last week he landed a perfect score in the American Conservative Union's 2010 ratings. Thursday, on the two year anniversary of the enactment of the federal stimulus program, Hatch put out a statement slamming the program and saying that "it's time to dramatically slash spending and start a dialogue about how to fix our broken, unsustainable entitlements whose future was made worse by the $2.6 trillion health spending bill."
Hatch's appearance last Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists from across the country that is put on by the ACU, drew cheers but also some jeers for his vote in 2008 for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), better know as the Wall Street bailout.
Hatch could face a conservative challenge next year from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who was re-elected last November to a second term. The 43-year-old congressman told the Deseret News recently that a run for the Senate is "a definite maybe," and said he intends to make his decision before the autumn.
According to the poll commissioned by the Deseret News & KSL, Hatch leads Chaffetz in a hypothetical 2012 GOP primary senate election 44 to 34 percent among all Utah residents. The survey indicates Hatch leading Chaffetz 51 to 35 percent among those describing themselves as Republicans, with Chaffetz on top by the same 51-35 percent margin among self-identified 'very conservative' voters. Those are the kind of voters who may dominate the state party's convention, which determines which candidates advance to the GOP primary.
Reynolds says "there's a stark contrast between the records of Chaffetz and Hatch."
As for a possible primary challenge, Hatch recently told CNN that "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."
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After watching Chaffetz last night on TV, I would say that Jason will have enough of his own legal problems that he will not pose any threat to Orrin.
It's amazing how many conservatives think they're "Christians". Jesus was as liberal as they come!
Can you imagine the kind of mental throwbacks that identify themselves as 'very conservative voters', and would thus vote for a Teatard over Hatch?!! It absolutely boggles the mind that such genetic throwbacks still exit in today's human population. The ancestors of these people must have been on the verge of extinction some 7,000 years ago, but were saved when the rest of the human race ushered in 'civilization', thus taking away the immediate harsh environmental conditions that would have eliminated such abject weakness/failure.
Chaffetz has promised to shut down government and does not care about a global economic meltdown. He has also promised to raise the age of social security, cut social security benefits, eliminate medicaid, reduce medicare, and go after working Americans.
The Republican Brotherhood is really starting to scare me.
Go Hatch! Defeat these crazies!
Do these Tea Party people think that every conservative state will agree with them and their phony philosophies. The good state of Utah is predominately LDS (Mormon) and very conservative they don't need backwards Tea Party people preaching to Orrin Hatch!
I'd take a good standing Mormon senator over any Tea Party candidate or Presidential candidate. Romney vs Palin antics no contest!
What a bunch of uninformed hypocrites these Tea Party people are!
EJ in Tacoma
the tea party is code for kkk new era, where the hell were they ten years ago, or were they deaf, mute or heads in the sand, go home folk, and shut up
Orrin do what was dibe in Alaska. Run as a write in candidate. If Bob Bennet would have done that he would have been reelected. In Utah these folks on the extreme right do not represent the feelings of the majority of Republicans in this state. Its time to take the Party back and the best way is to run as a write in candidate.
Freedomworks is being run by Republican party operative Dick Armey trying to co-opt the Tea Party movement, so stop calling it a "grassroots" organization. CNN, please do some research before you print nonsense.
Funny how the so-called conservative republicans really become Conservative when their head is on the block. They only talk change until after the election is over then it is right back to business as usual. McCain is a PRIME example. I use to like Hatch until some of his more recent questionable votes. I never liked the song bird McCain!
The Irony, Hatch will have to become an Independant! That's laughable, just like the Tea Party itself!