Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) are tea party targets in 2012, but the two Republicans couldn’t be more different when it comes to approaching the movement.
Lugar has been almost hostile, name-calling tea partyers who disagree with him and keeping up his moderate voting streak despite being vulnerable to a challenge from the right. But Hatch is keeping his friends close and his enemies closer, appearing at tea party events and offering partisan red meat to activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week.
Lugar said tea party activists who disagreed with his stance on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty should “get real.” Tea party activists angry about his support of Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court didn’t get any comfort from his support for the immigration measure known as the DREAM Act.
Hatch voted for Kagan to become solicitor general but against her Supreme Court nomination. He has been a solid conservative vote since seeing fellow Utah Sen. Bob Bennett get booted by the Republican Party in 2010. Tea party activists are angry over Hatch’s vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
“You may disagree, but you’re not sitting there having to make these decisions. I probably made a mistake voting for it,” Hatch told the CPAC crowd of his TARP vote. Yet he said he thought “we would have gone into a depression” without the law.
Hatch first started meeting with tea partyers in 2009 and has recently taken extra steps to find common ground with them, speaking at a Tea Party Express event at the National Press Club and at CPAC.
The meetings may be helping.
The Tea Party Express said in late January that it wasn’t planning to target Hatch, and a tea party activist in Utah told Roll Call that he felt Hatch had learned from his mistakes. David Kirkham, president of Kirkham Motorsports in Provo and organizer of Utah’s first tea party rally in 2009, said he discussed Hatch’s vote for TARP with him in 2009.
“He kind of looked at me and was like, ‘Yeah, that really was a bad vote, wasn’t it?’” Kirkham recalled earlier this week.
Tea party leaders in Utah will wait until the state legislative session is over in the next couple months to begin to engage in the Senate race, Kirkham said. No Republican candidate has publicly declared intentions to run against Hatch yet, but Rep. Jason Chaffetz is frequently mentioned as a potential opponent.