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Activists March to NRSC to Demand Hatch Ouster

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Grace Colucci, of Long Island, N.Y., protests at the NRSC headquarters on Monday with a group from FreedomWorks to demand that the NRSC stay out of Sen. Orrin Hatch's re-election campaign.

Updated: 1:28 p.m.

Activists and staff from FreedomWorks, the influential advocacy group led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), on Monday ordered the Senate Republican campaign arm to stay out of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) re-election race in 2012.

One woman shouted “Grab your torches!” as dozens of conservative activists primarily from Utah piled out of the FreedomWorks office just two blocks north of the Capitol to march to the National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters.

About 40 marchers from around the country — in Washington for FreedomWorks’ activist “boot camp” over the weekend — processed to the NRSC on Monday to tell the committee that its dollars should be spent elsewhere.

"I'm looking for candidates who are intellectually honest," Darcy Van Orden, an activist from Salt Lake City, told a Roll Call reporter shadowing the march. Van Orden said she was very active in the defeat of Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in 2010. "We will retire him with dignity. I'll throw him a party myself," she said.

Activists stood in the lobby of the NRSC chanting, "Orrin Hatch has got to go! People choose Senators, not committees!" They demanded a meeting from a visibly irritated NRSC aide. Eventually two activists were permitted to go up to the committee headquarters.

FreedomWorks has made defeating Hatch a top priority. The group complains the six-term Utah Republican has frequently sided with Democrats, and it doesn’t like his votes for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and to raise the debt ceiling. The race is one of 15 Senate contests the group will target in 2012, and other conservatives say booting Hatch in a party convention next year is a priority. That’s one reason he’s shifted to the right of late.

Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen told Roll Call the march seemed like "nothing more than a carefully orchestrated attempt by an out-of-state interest group trying to gather attention for their cause."

"Who will be Utah's next Senator is a decision Utahns will make for the future of our state — not Texans, or people from Washington, D.C.," he said. "At the end of the day, while FreedomWorks is putting time and effort into getting free press, our campaign team is in the field gathering support."

NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh told Roll Call that the committee respects the activists' views, but, he pointed out, "just as we respect the views of others who are strongly supporting Senator Hatch’s re-election, including Mark Levin and C. Boyden Gray, who is the co-chairman of the FreedomWorks Foundation Board."

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