Rep. Chaffetz to decide on Hatch challenge by fall of next year

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who is eyeing a 2012 bid against Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said he will likely make a decision to run for the upper chamber by the fall of next year.

Chaffetz has high approval ratings in Utah and is seen as a major threat to Hatch, who voted for the controversial 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

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Hatch, meanwhile, says he isn’t afraid to have his 2012 reelection bid judged by the same Utah Republican activists who ousted his longtime GOP colleague Bob Bennett this month.

Hatch, a senator since 1977, disavowed any unease with the state’s unusual nominating rules or any possibility that he would run as an independent or write-in candidate in light of Bennett’s political demise.

Asked about the process’s fairness, Hatch said he plans no divergence from his usual reelection strategy.

“I’ve been going through it for 34 years,” Hatch told The Hill. “These are our people. I can’t judge [the fairness]. If that’s what our folks want to do, I’ll be the first to stand up for them… I’m planning on winning those delegates over, and I think we will.”

On May 8, Bennett was defeated in his bid for a third term at the Utah Republican Convention, finishing third in a second round of voting. Under the state’s nominating rules, Senate nominees are chosen by 3,500 delegates who are picked by party caucuses. On Thursday, Bennett ruled out a write-in campaign.

Chaffetz considered running against Bennett, but opted to run for reelection in the lower chamber. The Utah congressman said he was taking one election at a time and will wait until next year to make a decision about the Senate.

In 2008, Chaffetz defeated then-Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) in a primary by 20 points. Cannon was endorsed by President George W. Bush as well as Bennett and Hatch.

Noting those endorsements, Chaffetz recently told The Hill, "I don't owe [the establishment] anything."

Like Hatch, Bennett voted for the the TARP. Bennett also attracted criticism for his immigration votes and a healthcare reform plan he crafted with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

A longtime close friend of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Hatch has a record of bipartisanship despite his conservative roots. He has supported stem cell research, being one of 58 senators who asked  Bush to ease federal restrictions on the practice, and has worked closely with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), one of the House’s most liberal members. The two men wrote the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act, which authorized and regulated generic drugs, and with Kennedy, Hatch worked on a wide range of topics including medical research, healthcare reform, children’s healthcare, bioterrorism and rights for the disabled.

In a 2009 survey by The Hill, Hatch was cited by Senate Democrats as one of the easiest GOP senators to work with. When asked his opinion on the easiest Democrats to legislate with, Hatch cited Kennedy and Waxman.

Although he won reelection in 2006 with 62 percent and in 2000 with 66 percent, Hatch acknowledged that the nominating process those years was “rough.”

“I’ve been through it six times, and the last two times have been rough. On the other hand, I’ve learned a lot from that, too.”

Hatch said his vote for the TARP proposal in 2008 as a critical and necessary decision: “That irritated everybody, but on the other hand people are starting to come to the conclusion… that if we hadn’t done that, we would have had five or six months without anything being done. We’d be in a doggone depression. It was all we had at that particular time.

“If I’d had it to do over, I’d have made them rewrite that bill. I would have made them meet certain standards that were not met in those circumstances. But all of us knew it was a big problem and all of us knew it was something that had to be done. The adults had to vote for it, that’s all there was to it.”

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