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Welcome to extreme makeover, the Sen. Orrin Hatch edition.
The Utah Republican — fearful that 3,500 locally elected grass-roots, state GOP delegates could boot him from office 10 months from now — has spent the past several months recasting his image in a bid for a seventh term. He’s shining a spotlight on his 34-year Senate voting record as a conservative stalwart while minimizing his penchant for bipartisan deal-making.
Former Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted in 2010, when a vote of Utah GOP convention delegates prevented him from advancing to the statewide primary ballot despite an 84 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. Cognizant of his precarious position with grass-roots Republicans and tea party activists in a way that Bennett was not, Hatch is determined not to let the same thing happen to him.
“I’m making an effort to emphasize [my conservative record] because for some reason, some of these outside groups don’t recognize all of the 35 years of conservatism I’ve done,” Hatch, 77, told Roll Call on Wednesday in a brief interview. “I voted over 12,000 times, and they pick an issue here, an issue there. Well, it would be surprising if you couldn’t find something you disagreed with, with that kind of voting record.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, 44, is threatening to primary Hatch in 2012 and is not bashful about his interest.
“It’s clear to me that Utah voters are going to be making a change in their Senate leadership,” the second-term Congressman told Roll Call. “I am leaning toward doing it. I’m likely to do it.”
Hatch appeared Wednesday at a Capitol Hill news conference alongside Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) — who was among the candidates to defeat Bennett at last year’s Utah GOP convention — as well as tea-party-favored Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.); Rand Paul (Ky.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.), Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and House Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio), among others.
The Members were there to pledge opposition to increasing the debt ceiling unless Congress cuts spending, caps spending and approves a balanced budget amendment. The event was organized in part by conservative advocacy groups, including the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, which oppose Hatch’s re-election bid. Chaffetz also has signed that pledge, but he did not attend the news conference.
Hatch holds a near 90 percent lifetime rating from the ACU. But past votes on the debt limit and the Troubled Asset Relief Program have motivated groups like those to search for candidates to oppose him at the April 21 convention next year. The Club for Growth even publicly called for Chaffetz to challenge Hatch.