The Tea Party infighting in Utah is a warning sign to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) that no single endorsement is enough to inoculate him from criticisms that he’s not conservative enough for Republican voters.
The Tea Party Express’ consultant Sal Russo praised Hatch, in an interview with National Review Online, calling him an “original tea partier,” and invoking Hatch’s early support of Ronald Reagan in 1976. “Yeah, you know, Orrin is a Reagan conservative,” Russo told NRO. “As far as I’m concerned, that’s as good as it gets.”
But even though she works for the same organization, Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer didn’t agree with her colleague.
“In regards to Sal Russo’s comments, what Mr. Russo was getting at is that we will continue to approach each race with a sense of the greater perspective and understand the Reagan principle that our 20 percent enemy is still 80 percent our friend,” she said in a statement.
“There is great excitement and energy amongst Utah tea-party activists about the prospects for a constitutional conservative candidate to step forward and offer an alternative to Senator Hatch in 2012. If and when that should happen, we here at the Tea Party Express will evaluate those candidates.”
Meanwhile, the Club for Growth, which is a major player in Republican primary contests, and has occasionally backed challengers to sitting Republican members of Congress, also chimed in – against Hatch.
“While Senator Hatch’s activity in the 1976 presidential campaign is commendable, a lot can change in 35 years,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. “We have made no decision about the upcoming Utah Senate race, but when we do, our decision will be about improving the Senate in 2013, not 1977.”