Hatch: Santorum endorsed primary opponent because of 'sugar daddy'

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) says he was surprised and a little hurt when former colleague Rick Santorum endorsed his primary opponent and blamed the development on Santorum’s “sugar daddy.”

Santorum (Pa.), a former senator who served 12 years alongside Hatch, surprised some Capitol Hill insiders this month when he threw his support to Dan Liljenquist in the Utah Republican primary.

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Hatch was stunned.

“I was a little hurt by it — I shouldn’t say hurt. I was surprised,” he told The Hill this week.

Even conservatives who are not big Hatch fans were baffled.

“Santorum endorsing Liljenquist is a head-scratcher,” said one conservative aide. “Most people don’t believe Liljenquist will win. Hatch has been able to lock up a lot of support.”

Hatch said the most likely explanation is that Santorum is acting at the behest of his “sugar daddy,” Foster Friess, the multi-millionaire conservative donor.

“Foster Friess is his biggest sugar daddy and Foster Friess’s son is a good friend of my opponent. I think he probably did what he was told by Foster,” Hatch said.

Friess, who earned his fortune running a mutual fund, spent nearly $1.7 million to bankroll Santorum’s presidential campaign.

A spokeswoman for Santorum did not respond to a request for comment.

Liljenquist said in an interview Friday that he met Santorum through Friess and his son Steve.

“I’m friends with Foster, I’m friends with his son and I’m friends with Rick,” he said.

Liljenquist said he met Santorum at a meeting of conservative activists hosted several months ago by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Liljenquist said he met Foster and Steve Friess through his work on pension reform.

“I met them about two years ago when they were interested in the pension reform I did in Utah. They’re very conservative guys financially and fiscally and we hit it off,” he said.

Utah’s primary will take place Tuesday.

Hatch has spent close to $10 million on the race, outpacing his opponent by a ratio of about 10 to 1.

But Liljenquist has the support of FreedomWorks for America, which has poured money into the race opposing Hatch.

Santorum’s endorsement was surprising because he served with Hatch on the Senate Finance Committee and senators often form their strongest friendships with committee mates.

Santorum praised Hatch but questioned his conservative credentials when he touted his opponent earlier this month.

“I've known Orrin Hatch for years and believe he is a very good man,” Santorum wrote in an email to supporters. “But in a deeply conservative state like Utah, we must elect authentic conservatives.”

Santorum surprised some conservative strategists last month by endorsing state Attorney General Jon Bruning in Nebraska’s Senate Republican primary.

Bruning was opposed by an array of conservative advocacy groups that accused him of being a Republican in name only.

Club for Growth Action spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on devastating ads taking Bruning to task for praising the 2009 federal stimulus bill, doubling his office budget and proposing an increase in car fees.

“Santorum endorsing Bruning in Nebraska was really weird,” said a conservative strategist.

After Santorum dropped out of the presidential primary, Friess shifted his support to Mitt Romney.