Sen. Hatch accuses possible primary challenger of being publicity hound

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) took a shot at a likely primary foe, accusing Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Tuedsay night of being exceedingly interested in publicity. 

Hatch, who’s been girding himself for a primary challenge to his right as he seeks renomination to run for another term in 2012, said he thought Chaffetz could be a “halfway decent congressman” if he just focused on the job.

“Well, he’s been running since the day he got elected to Congress,” Hatch said of Chaffetz during an appearance on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “I mean, you know, he just, I don’t know. I think he enjoys getting the publicity that happens.”

{mosads}Chaffetz, a second-term Republican lawmaker who won office after successfully beating a GOP incumbent in a primary, has made serious rumblings about challenging Hatch. He’s embarked on a media campaign during this week’s House recess in which Chaffetz has said he’s leaning toward running.

Hatch has sought to steel himself for the eventual challenge by staking out more rightward positions, and taking the lead on some major conservative initiatives, such as the balanced-budget amendment sought by his Utah colleague, Sen. Mike Lee (R).

The longtime Utah senator was hardly ignorant, though, of the threat posed by Chaffetz, whom he seemed to characterize as an overambitious upstart who’s willing to throw elbows to get ahead.

“Well, let’s put it this way. I intend to win, and we will win,” Hatch said. “I don’t understand him. I think he could possibly be a halfway decent congressman in the House if he would concentrate on it. But he’s been running for Senate from day one. And others say that he also has said that he might want to run for governor, and one person even said, well, he’s even talked about running for president. Well, I don’t know, more power to him, but I don’t believe in running against a fellow Republican.”

Chaffetz responded in kind on Wednesday, accusing Hatch of being an even more eager media darling, especially as the senator steels himself for a possible primary challenge.

“I have taken issue with his positions and now he’s criticizing me on my drive and tenacity — classic,” Chaffetz said in a phone interview with The Hill. “I don’t ask the questions, I just answer them … Go back and have a look at who’s hounding the media to cover them.”

— This story was updated at 3:38 p.m.

Tags Jason Chaffetz Mike Lee Orrin Hatch
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