U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah said he is considering challenging incumbent Orrin Hatch for their state’s Republican Senate nomination next year, adding that he is getting “increasing clarity” about a bid to unseat the six-term lawmaker.
“I’m potentially running for the Senate,” Chaffetz said in an interview yesterday. He said he believes Utah voters “are ready for a change,” and that he will announce a decision after Labor Day in early September.
Chaffetz, 44, made his comments after the Salt Lake Tribune reported May 31 that five unnamed “Utah politicos” said the two-term House member has told them in recent weeks that he will make a run for the Senate nomination, which will first be considered at a Republican state convention.
Last year, Tea Party activists helped lead a push to reject Utah Senator Robert Bennett’s bid for a fourth term at a similar party convention. Republican Mike Lee then won a primary for the nomination and captured the Senate seat in November’s election.
Hatch, 77, has been reaching out to Tea Party activists to avoid Bennett’s fate. He has sought to defuse criticism of his record of working with Democrats on legislation such as the 2008 bailout of the nation’s banks, creating a pathway to citizenship for some illegal immigrants and federal funding for stem-cell research. In 1997, he joined forces with the late Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, to create a children’s health-care program.
Tea Party Outreach
Hatch’s outreach to Tea Party groups has included town-hall meetings and personal calls before Senate votes. And as part of a conservative tilt, he has pushed to peel back parts of last year’s health-care overhaul, taken a tougher stance on immigration, and vowed to fight against any tax increases proposed by President Barack Obama.
Hatch first won his seat in 1976, tying him with Richard Lugar of Indiana as the Senate’s longest-serving Republicans. Lugar, 79, is facing a primary challenge from Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Chaffetz said he isn’t ready to make a final decision on a Senate race, in part because he believes voters tire of lengthy campaigns. He also said he’s still weighing his options.
“I’m still in the definite ‘maybe’ category, but I do have increasing clarity,” he said in a phone interview.
Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Hatch, said the senator wouldn’t comment about a possible Chaffetz challenge until the House lawmaker makes up his mind.
“He’s not saying anything he hasn’t said for months,” Ferrier said of Chaffetz’s remarks.
“Run, Jason, Run!” Chocola said in a statement yesterday. “Congressman Chaffetz has been a pro-growth star since entering the House, and he’s exactly the type of leader we need in the United States Senate.”
Hatch won re-election in 2006 with 63 percent of the vote. He serves as the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the tax code, health care and trade policy.
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