A top strategist for one of the nation's leading Tea Party groups says Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) will not be a target in 2012. 

Sal Russo, the top strategist for the Tea Party Express, told National Review Online that the group will not back a primary challenge to Hatch next year should one emerge. 

"I think he was an original tea partier," Russo told NRO. "He has been talking about our issues from the beginning. Orrin is a Reagan conservative, as far as I'm concerned, and that's as good as it gets." 

In 2010, the Tea Party Express endorsed and ran TV ads on behalf of Sharron Angle in Nevada, Joe Miller in Alaska and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware.  

The declaration from the Tea Party Express certainly doesn't mean a Hatch primary challenge won't still happen in 2012, but the senator is fighting hard to avoid one.

Utah Tea Party organizer Darcy Van Orden told The Ballot Box recently that Hatch has been increasingly responsive to Tea Party groups in the state and the senator is in contact with her "frequently."

"He's made strong moves to the right," she said. "But there's still going to be a lot of scrutiny and we'll be taking a close look at his record." 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has been openly weighing a run against Hatch.