Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz has told several Utah political insiders that he plans to run against Sen. Orrin Hatch next year, setting up a major intraparty Republican 2012 battle. All eyes have been on the second-term congressman for months. But five Utah politicos, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Chaffetz has told them directly in recent weeks that he will contend for the Republican nomination.
Chaffetz said Tuesday that he’s not making any official announcement yet, but he is moving toward a Hatch challenge. “I have an increasing clarity,” Chaffetz said. “Until I walk up to the microphone to make an announcement, it’s not official. But it’s no secret I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve been gravitating in that direction.”
"I'm hearing Chaffetz is in," one Utah GOP source tells me, citing a number of private water-testing discussions Chaffetz's camp has initiated with influential state Republicans. If he follows through, Chaffetz is tentatively considering an October announcement. Hatch -- a fairly reliable conservative voice in the Senate -- has shifted further to the right in recent months, aiming to blunt the sort of conservative agita that helped bring down his erstwhile colleague, Sen. Bob Bennett, last year.
Hatch is under no illusions that the long knives won't be out for him next year, I'm told. Indeed, early warning signs have proliferated: His fellow Utah Senator, freshman Mike Lee, has repeatedly declined to endorse the senior senator for re-election, and the conservative Club for Growth has all but endorsed Chaffetz. The Club issued a press release on Wednesday that strongly urged Chaffetz to jump into the race, and highlighted some of Hatch's controversial votes:
“Run, Jason, Run!” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “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. Senator Hatch deserves recognition for his lengthy service to our country, and his leadership on some important issues. However, Senator Hatch has frequently supported policies that have grown government, burdened our economy, and taken America in the wrong direction. Fiscal conservatives can do better. If Congressman Chaffetz decides to run for the U.S. Senate, he will have the full support of the Club for Growth PAC and our 55,000 members.”
Senator Hatch has a lower lifetime score on the Club for Growth’s Scorecard (74%) than former Utah Senator Robert Bennett (77%), who was opposed by the Club for Growth PAC in 2010.
Another take from a Utah Republican insider: "I think [Chaffetz] is undecided, and may one day decide it's too risky. In the meantime, it keeps people out of the race, which is good for him and [for Hatch]."