Orrin Hatch plays ball with tea party

February 5, 2011

By MANU RAJU, Politico

At first glance, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch seems to be the ideal tea party target: He’s a 34-year Senate veteran with a history of deal cutting with Democrats who voted for the bank bailout of 2008.

But this ultimate establishment Republican is mounting perhaps the most aggressive courtship of the grass-roots movement of any sitting senator. The Hatch survival playbook for 2012 includes one-on-one meetings with tea party leaders, phone calls to key players ahead of controversial Senate votes, hours-long town halls and picnics with hundreds of activists. He’s even touting his new perch as the top Republican on the Finance Committee, saying he’d use that power to dramatically overhaul President Barack Obama’s health care and economic policies.

Hatch’s maneuvering isn’t just a story of one senator’s efforts at political survival in a party with a deeply conservative primary electorate. How Hatch handles the next 18 months will be closely scrutinized by the national Republican Party as a road map for candidates across the country as they navigate the party establishment divide that has uprooted the GOP order.

“I may not look tough, I may not act tough, but deep down there is nobody tougher than I am,” a deadly serious Hatch said in his trademark murmur during an interview in his Senate office. “And there is nobody who works any harder than I do.”

Hatch’s efforts also represent a test for the tea party movement itself, which must decide whether to build knee-jerk opposition to longtime incumbents who occasionally break from party orthodoxy or back only candidates with pure conservative records.

Hatch began wooing the tea party even before his home state colleague Sen. Bob Bennett ran into political problems that eventually led to his rejection at the Utah GOP convention last year. It was a warning shot for establishment candidates across the country that the tea party had gained real power within the Republican Party, and Hatch went to work reaching out to the grassroots leaders of the movement.

The 76-year-old’s furious efforts back home are paying clear dividends, with tea party groups split on whether to organize the same sort of rebellion that took down Bennett.

To read more, visit: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0211/48647.html#ixzz1D5NNSZFU

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