Tea Party Express warns Sen. Hatch isn't off the hook, could face primary

One of the country's largest Tea Party groups is clarifying remarks made Thursday by its chief political strategist, who said in an interview that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wouldn't be among the group's targets in 2012.  

Top strategist for the Tea Party Express, Sal Russo, told National Review Online that the group wouldn't back a primary challenge to Hatch next year should one emerge. 

ADVERTISEMENT
But Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer e-mails The Ballot Box to say that's not the case and that Hatch is still very much under the Tea Party microscope in Utah.

"There is great excitement and energy amongst Utah tea party activists about the prospects for a constitutional conservative candidate to step forward and offer an alternative to Senator Hatch in 2012," Kremer said. "If and when that should happen, we here at the Tea Party Express will evaluate those candidates." 

What Russo was getting at, explained Kremer is that the group will "approach every race with a sense of the greater perspective and understand the Reagan principle that our 20 percent enemy is still 80 percent our friend."

Russo called Hatch "an original tea partier" in an interview with NRO, adding, "Orrin is a Reagan conservative, as far as I'm concerned, and that's as good as it gets." 

The Salt Lake Tribune points out that Russo is a former Hatch adviser. He worked on the Utah Republican's presidential bid in 2000. 

Kremer said while she doesn't want to associate Hatch with "the leading big-government liberals in the chamber," she noted that he has, at times, "gone with the will of the entrenched political establishment instead of the will of the voters of his state." 

She stressed that the group's evaluation process on Hatch in 2012 "will be identical to that which propelled us to support Mike Lee's challenge to Utah's other establishment senator, Robert Bennett."

Bennett was defeated at the party's state convention last cycle and Lee went on to capture his Senate seat. 

Some Tea Party activists in the state are still considering challenging Hatch, with Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) openly weighing a run against the longtime senator in a Republican primary.