Like Indiana's Richard Lugar, Sen. Orrin Hatch has been mentioned among long-serving Republicans who may meet the fate of Hatch's former Utah colleague Robert Bennett. Bennett lost his seat when conservative and tea party movement activists denied him the GOP nomination in 2008.
The 76-year-old Hatch, who will be seeking his sixth term next year, has shown he's mindful of the threat by going out of his way lately to court those activists, inviting himself to a Tea Party Express townhall
meeting last week.
Some on the right consider Hatch too much of a centrist, and like Bennett, he has been widely criticized by many conservatives for supporting the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the bailout of financial institutions approved by Congress in 2008 when the subprime mortgage crisis was leading to an economic meltdown. Hatch got heckled
at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week for his vote on TARP.
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz
has talked about taking on Hatch in a GOP primary, and a Deseret News-KSL poll
shows that while Hatch runs ahead of Chaffetz, it is not by a margin that most established incumbents would feel comfortable with, especially given that Chaffetz has not yet announced a challenge.
Hatch leads him by 51 percent to 35 percent among respondents who identified themselves as Republicans in the survey conducted Feb. 8-10. The Deseret News didn't give complete figures, but the remainder were presumably undecided. Republicans who described themselves as "very conservative" favored Chaffetz by 51 percent to 35 percent. The margin of error is 4.4 points.
When the poll included all Utahans, regardless of party affiliation, Hatch led 44 percent to 34 percent.
Chaffetz told the Deseret News, "Not bad for a rookie. . . . I was 9 years old when he took office."
As to whether he will run against Hatch, Chaffetz said only that a Senate bid is "a definite maybe" and he will make a decision by fall.
"The concern Hatch's people have had all along is somebody like a Rep. Chaffetz would be a big risk to them because he would be seen as a newer face," University of Utah political scientist Matthew Burbank told The News.
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