Bad news for Tea Party activists and FreedomWorks came out of Utah this morning. Their best hope for pushing Orrin Hatch into retirement will announce later today that he won’t challenge the incumbent Republican at the state caucus. Rep. Jason Chaffetz had been considered the best candidate for a primary fight:
After weighing his options for months, Rep. Jason Chaffetz is expected to announce today that he will not challenge Orrin Hatch for his U.S. Senate seat next year, sources told The Tribune today.
Chaffetz has scheduled a press conference this afternoon to announce his plans, which could set off a chain reaction among potential congressional candidates already positioning to run for his 3rd District seat.
But sources aware of the decision, speaking on condition of anonymity, say he will not challenge Hatch. Chaffetz did not respond to phone messages or texts this morning.
That will break hearts in the Tea Party movement. FreedomWorks had started a grassroots effort to get Hatch out of the Senate, emboldened by the success of Mike Lee’s challenge to Bob Bennett in 2010. Hatch had responded with an all-stops-pulled PR campaign selling himself as a Tea Party-style conservative and a friendly voice to grassroots activists in the upper chamber. The effort split conservative activists like Sarah Palin and our own Boss Emeritus.
Without Chaffetz, however, the anti-Hatch forces may be left without a natural challenger. Chaffetz had built a solid reputation in the House for conservative policy development, and he’s popular in Utah and could have created a serious problem for Hatch. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that this may also have been the problem in convincing Chaffetz to aim for the Senate. His growing influence in the House would disappear behind Senators like Lee and Marco Rubio, who got there first and have more seniority in the caucus.
For the moment, then, it appears that Hatch is safe, if not exactly secure. That could change if activists find someone with enough standing to challenge the incumbent — or perhaps with just enough ambition to do so. Lee did well without having a House seat as a platform for his challenge to Bennett in 2010.