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Will Tea Party Target Veteran Sens. Orrin Hatch and Dick Lugar in 2012?

4 years ago
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Does the tea party movement have senior Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Dick Lugar in its crosshairs?

A conservative-leaning Washington tabloid says Hatch and Lugar -- both veterans of 3½ decades on Capitol Hill -- should be worried heading into the 2012 election cycle. Possible threats to the two senior Republicans are taken seriously enough that the moderate GOP Ripon Society distributed a recent article about their respective situations to reporters.

The tea party brought down Utah's junior senator, Bob Bennett, earlier this year, Washington Examiner political columnist Timothy P. Carney writes, and could aim at Hatch because of his ardor for special-interest budget earmarks and willingness to work with Democrats like the late Ted Kennedy. But Hatch could also be in trouble because he is an institution in Washington at a time when institutions are out of favor, the newspaper said.

Dick LugarHatch could be challenged on the political right by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who was re-elected to a second term last month and who, a friend says, "was tea party before the tea party." Utah state Sen. Dan Liljenquist told the Examiner that "a lot of people are emboldened by what happened to Bennett" and Hatch "is in worse shape than Bennett" was.

While Hatch is an across-the-board conservative, Lugar is an unabashed moderate-conservative. The heartland senator voted for the ill-fated DREAM Act last week, is expected to back the START arms treaty, and had Indiana earmarks in the huge, pork-laden spending bill that was pulled off the Senate floor by Democrats last week after its perceived excesses sparked outrage.

Lugar is far from oblivious to the peril from the right. In a recent article for the Ripon Society, he said he understood Republican gains last month owed much to voter frustration over "high unemployment, excessive government spending yielding monumental deficits . . . and obtrusive federal government interference in business and other ordinary pursuits of life in a free country."

He also defended the tea party against charges of extremism. "Whatever criticisms may be leveled at one or another modern-day tea party spokesperson or candidate, it is unfair -- and foolish -- to view the movement and the over one-third of Americans who say they support its objectives as an irresponsible fringe," he wrote. "The vast majority of such Americans are responsible citizens convinced that federal tax, spending and regulatory policies are fundamentally off-track."

Neither Lugar, 78, nor Hatch, 76, has formally declared for re-election. But an aide said Lugar is raising money, organizing a campaign and "anticipating a challenge by somebody."

The Examiner did not quote any tea party spokesmen talking about Hatch or Lugar. But conservative Club for Growth Vice President Andy Roth said both senators are "under the microscope." The Club for Growth contributed to a number of tea party-backed insurgents in the last campaign.

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