GOP candidates in the Tea Party crosshairs
The Tea Party movement is taking aim at Republican incumbents, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Olympia Snow of Maine, and Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Will it succeed in unseating them?
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Viability is a watchword for FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, two of the three juggernauts that use similar criteria for their primary picks. As for the third, the Tea Party Express, founding strategist Sal Russo told me his group is willing to back candidates with “a tougher course” to victory, but “clearly we’re trying to win elections.”Skip to next paragraph
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Hatch has a solidly conservative lifetime rating of 89 from the American Conservative Union. But the logic of campaigns is narrow and sometimes unfair. Hatch is from a state so Republican that anyone who could best him for the nomination would be a near shoo-in in a general election (unlike, say, swing state Nevada or Democratic-leaning Delaware). And Chaffetz is eminently credible.
He’s no Sharron Angle (who lost to Harry Reid in Nevada), Christine O’Donnell (who lost to Chris Coons in Delaware), or Joe Miller (who beat Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s GOP primary but lost when she ran as an independent).
The Club for Growth endorsed Angle last year but was disappointed in her general-election campaign. “When you’re on that big a stage and you’ve got that many people offering you help, we were hopeful that she might have taken some of it,” Club President Chris Chocola told me.
While Chocola defends the Angle endorsement, it’s notable that his first pick against an incumbent this time around is Chaffetz, promising him money in a recent email headlined “Run Jason Run.” “If we make an endorsement, we ask our members to invest their money. We’re not going to ask our members to do that if we don’t think a candidate’s viable,” Chocola says.
Utah has a multi-tiered nomination process that starts with neighborhood caucuses, proceeds to a convention, and then, if no candidate wins 60 percent of delegates, to a primary. Utah strategists and Hatch insiders say the senator has been reaching out to the new Tea Party activists in his state for years and is building a strong organization. “I intend to win, and we will win,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. He dismissed Chaffetz as a publicity hound, adding, “I think he could possibly be a halfway decent congressman in the House if he would concentrate on it.”