Romney helps Hatch ahead of primary

Mitt Romney and an outside spending group are aiding Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in his primary fight.

American Action Network, a deep-pocketed outside spending group, has made a six-figure ad buy to help the six-term senator, and Hatch's campaign has released a separate ad in which Romney praises him.

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The ads come ahead of the March 15 GOP caucuses, where the party will choose the delegates for the state convention. It is an important night for Hatch, who is facing a potentially strong Tea Party challenge from state Sen. Dan Liljenquist (R). Two years ago, Tea Party backers won big at the caucuses, giving them a lot of power at the state convention, which they used to oust longtime Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in the primary process.

Hatch's radio ad featuring Romney began running over the weekend, while AAN's television ad is still being finalized and will begin running Monday. The AAN ad touts Hatch's longtime push for a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Both Romney and the AAN, which is headed by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), are from the establishment wing of the GOP, but their support could still help Hatch: Romney remains highly popular in the Mormon-heavy state, and the major early ad buy from AAN, which touts Hatch's conservative credentials, could help boost his favorability numbers and help encourage his backers to vote in the convention.

The AAN's support could also help counter-balance the help more conservative outside groups like FreedomWorks will give Liljenquist. The two will square off in a GOP convention vote in May. If either candidate wins more than 60 percent of the vote they become the nominee, and if the two are close they would face off in a primary. Hatch is more in danger of losing the convention vote than the primary — he remains popular statewide, even with conservative Republicans, but Tea Party activists have in recent years made up a large chunk of the GOP convention.

—This post was updated at 9:35 a.m.