With polls showing a battle to the finish in Saturday's state Republican convention vote for U.S. Senate in Utah, a national Tea Party group is claiming a partial victory.
FreedomWorks, the national Tea Party organization which has been leading the fight to unseat Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for two years, said it is confident that it can force a primary against the six-term senator. But the group's representative said, regardless of the results this weekend, it has forced Hatch to take more conservative positions
Hatch is running against former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, and state Rep. Chris Herrod at the convention. Convention delegates were elected during party caucuses statewide in March.
"(Orrin Hatch) was talking about big government, and promoting SCHIP and TARP," FreedomWorks' Russ Walker told HuffPost. "Today, he has backed away from them."
Under Utah election law, Hatch will need 60 percent of the vote at the convention to win the nomination outright. If Hatch falls under the target, he and the second highest vote-getter -- likely Liljenquist -- will face off in a June 26 primary. In 2010, Sen. Bob Bennett (R) saw his reelection hopes die at the convention when he lost a ballot spot to two Tea Party aligned candidates. The Bennett defeat gave hope to Tea Party groups seeking to oust Hatch.
Walker said that FreedomWorks has met in the last two weeks with delegates to discuss Liljenquist's campaign and to provide details of Hatch's record. The group has focused on Hatch's past support for health care reform in the 1990s, along with support for the SCHIP children's health program and the federal bailout of financial institutions.
The Deseret News reports that a new poll shows Hatch with 61-percent of the convention vote, but the poll's margin of error is more than 4 percent. The poll had Liljenquist at 21 percent.
The group is setting up an information booth at the convention, Walker said, and he expected 60 volunteers to staff the effort on the group's behalf during the convention. FreedomWorks is prohibited from whipping delegates on the convention floor, but Walker said Liljenquist is planning to have a whip operation in place to lobby delegates before the vote.
Hatch's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, told the Deseret News that the incumbent plans an active convention campaign.
"It's nice to have that support going in, but that's not going to slow us down from being well-prepared for the convention Saturday," Hansen said to the Deseret News. "While we would like 60 percent, if that doesn't happen we'll be ready for a primary."
Walker said that FreedomWorks continues to plug away at the Utah race, but also has turned its attention toward Indiana where the group is assisting Treasurer Richard Murdock in his primary battle against Republican Sen. Dick Lugar.
The group plans to monitor Hatch if he wins, said Walker. "At the end of the day if we lost, Orrin Hatch has made a lot of promises and he'll need to keep them."
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