FreedomWorks: We’re still going after Hatch
Politics • Super PAC denies it’s retreating from Utah’s big Senate race.
Published: April 10, 2012 06:12PM
Updated: April 27, 2012 12:01PM

Like Mark Twain saying that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated, FreedomWorks insists any claims that it is scaling back its efforts against Sen. Orrin Hatch are wrong.

“The stories are inaccurate,” Russ Walker, vice president of campaigns at FreedomWorks, said Tuesday. “We’re not pulling back. We’re as committed as we were on Day 1. We’re going to see it through.”

That statement came after Politico reported that the super political-action committee was quietly retreating in Utah to divert resources for aggressive pushes in Senate races in Indiana and Texas.

Walker says Politico made incorrect assumptions based on FreedomWorks stating that it did not have any events planned in Utah this week and that it is ramping up operations in other states.

Walker said the current phase of the Beehive State campaign — when candidates are trying to meet personally with the 4,000 delegates before the April 21 Utah Republican Convention — does not require much spending on such things as TV ads.

In contrast, FreedomWorks reported last month spending $649,000 on TV, radio and mail ads before caucuses urging people to attend and elect delegates opposed to Hatch.

Similarly, a pro-Hatch group — Freedom Path — reported spending $571,000 in defense of Hatch and attacking one of his challengers, Dan Liljenquist, before the caucuses.

“It’s a different phase now. You only have 4,000 delegates. It’s a small universe, and it’s really the phase where delegates meet candidates,” Walker said. “We will continue to do what we have done all along, which is educate people about Hatch’s record, and we will educate delegates ... but we are not buying TV ads and things like that.”

Walker said that if Hatch fails to win the 60 percent of the delegate votes needed to win the GOP nomination outright and avoid a primary, FreedomWorks could ramp up TV ads and other efforts again.

“If we believe it’s winnable, then we’ll be involved in it. We have no intention at this time of pulling out,” he said. “We’re kind of under the assumption that it’s moving forward to a primary,” based on various internal polls.

Walker would not release numbers from those surveys, but said they vary over time — suggesting that support for candidates is “soft” and that many delegates have not yet decided whom to back.

The Hatch campaign earlier released a poll saying Utah’s six-term senator was supported by 62 percent of delegates. A pro-Hatch super PAC, Strong Utah, later released another poll saying the senator had 50.5 percent support.

Dave Hansen, Hatch’s campaign manager, said Tuesday that FreedomWorks “failed miserably in its lead-up to the caucuses and the results of our poll showed that — and the results of the caucuses showed that as well. If they try to come back in and distort the senator’s record again, the delegates are going to react the same way.”

In a debate last week, Hatch, Liljenquist and another challenger, Chris Herrod, all called for outside groups — for and against Hatch — to get out of the race and leave it to the candidates. Hatch and Liljenquist accused outside groups of distorting their records.

Of note, FreedomWorks was a major player two years ago in efforts that led to state convention delegates dumping three-term incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.

ldavidson@sltrib.com