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Once beleaguered Hatch now has upper hand

Politics » How Utah’s longest-serving senator went from playing catch-up to front-runner status.

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The Hatch campaign saw similar mixed results when it came to prominent outside groups that had battled against Bennett.

In mid-2011, the Club for Growth paid for a TV ad attacking Hatch; the group was itching to jump into the contest. It never did, though Club spokesman Barney Keller said it is still considering an anti-Hatch drive.

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Hansen takes some credit for the Club for Growth’s absence, saying Hatch supporters "worked on some of their folks to explain to them that Hatch wasn’t really against what they wanted."

Hatch also hired Jason Powers, a political consultant who ran the Club’s efforts against Bennett.

Keller, the Club spokesman, denies that these moves influenced the group’s decision.

The Hatch campaign also tried to talk FreedomWorks out of campaigning against him, even getting one of their board members to endorse him. It didn’t work.

FreedomWorks spent more than $700,000 opposing Hatch, much of it on direct-mail pieces that argue he has expanded the size of government. And FreedomWorks plans to continue its drive during the primary race.

Hatch’s team has tried to marginalize FreedomWorks as an out-of-town group attempting to sway Utah’s election. But the group says it has the backing of thousands of Utahns who want to see a new, more conservative person represent the state.

He ducked big-name challengers.

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Chaffetz long contemplated a run against Hatch, jabbing at him whenever he got the chance. And Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, also explored a Senate run.

Polls showed Chaffetz in a dead heat and Matheson only a few points behind, but neither of them wanted to run a bruising contest against a political heavyweight with such odds. In the end, both decided to run for their House seats.

"I thought I had a shot at winning but by no means was it a guarantee," said Chaffetz. "I knew it would be a multimillion-dollar bloodbath."

Chaffetz credited Hatch for working hard and reaching out to delegates. He also said the senator didn’t shy away from using his considerable influence to dissuade potential adversaries.

"He twisted a lot of arms," Chaffetz said.

As an example, the congressman had argued that Hatch had intimidated donors, making it difficult for him to raise money.

Hansen denies intimidating anyone but acknowledged signaling that it could make life difficult for Chaffetz. In one instance, Hatch’s campaign slammed him for skipping a meeting organized by Hatch with the director of the Bureau of Land Management to be on cable TV.

At the time, Hansen said: "It is singularly the most arrogant abrogation of responsibility I have seen from an elected official."

He now says that may have been a bit of an overreach, but "we had to let him know that we would take some shots at him."

His opponents started late and were less organized.

Chaffetz set aside a Senate bid in August, and Liljenquist, 37, who had hinted about a possible run for months began holding town hall meetings. He didn’t launch his run until December, and neither did state Rep. Chris Herrod, who came in third in the convention race.

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