Tea Party Candidate Targets Utah's Orrin Hatch

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Longtime Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch usually breezes through election challenges, but this time around the Tea Party has the Republican lawmaker in its sights.

Could his almost 40-year tenure be in jeopardy?

So far, Sen. Hatch has watched the Tea Party shake up Washington from the sidelines. That has included defeats of good friends and Senate veterans Richard Lugar of Indiana and Utah's own Bob Bennett.

Now Hatch is facing his own primary battle against Dan Liljenquist.

"My main beef with Sen. Hatch and a whole generation of politicians back there in Washington is they've spent the last 40 years centralizing power, increasing the size and scope of government, getting us into uncontrollable debt that we can't handle, and expanding entitlement programs that really, a whole new generation of Americans are going to have to clean up," Liljenquist said.

Unlike other Tea Party targets, Hatch doesn't wear the typical moderate label. His fights in support of conservative Supreme Court nominees are legendary.

Liljenquist, however, points to a voting record that includes Hatch helping raise the debt ceiling 16 times.

Hatch defended his actions, saying, "Most of those 16 times were during the Reagan years when we were funding the Soviet Union when he had to have the money for the military."

Liljenquist also notes Hatch's support of expanding Medicaid and the Wall Street bailout. He said that screams establishment Republican.

"I consider myself a Tea Party type candidate," Liljenquist said. "Look, whether you affiliate yourself with the Tea Party or not, it's debt and spending that matters, and that's what I think the Tea Party movement coalesces around, it's debt and spending."

CBN News contacted Hatch's campaign office repeatedly for an interview, but it would not make him available.

He hasn't been available for many debates either. Hatch agreed to only two radio debates, prompting Liljenquist to show up around town debating a cardboard cutout.

One of the big factors working against Liljenquist in Utah is that he is not getting the support of national Tea Party groups, like Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did.

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who happens to be very popular in Utah, has also endorsed Hatch.

Meanwhile, Liljenquist is only getting the support of the Tea Party organization Freedom Works. Others are sitting on the sidelines.

"Look, Tea Party Express, some of these other groups, Sen. Hatch had been working those groups for the last two years," Liljenquist noted. "He's made a determined effort to reach out to them and to donate to their causes and help them out, so I'm not surprised by that."

It also shouldn't be a surprise that Hatch outraised his opponent by almost 10 to 1 -- not good for someone without name recognition like Liljenquist. All this could turn his quest to make Hatch a casualty of long-time incumbency a long uphill climb.

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CBN News
David Brody

David Brody

CBN News Chief Political Correspondent

David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.