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Paul Rolly: FreedomWorks, from hero to boogeyman?

By paul rolly

| Tribune Columnist

First Published May 14 2013 06:49 pm • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:31 pm

Just three years ago, the deep-pocketed political action committee FreedomWorks was claiming king-of-the-hill status with intraparty victories over Republican incumbents it deemed untrue to conservative principles.

Among FreedomWorks’ claimed prey was former Utah U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, an 18-year veteran in the Senate who lost at the state GOP convention in 2010. He eventually was replaced by tea party favorite Mike Lee. FreedomWorks then set its sights on the other Utah Senate incumbent, Orrin Hatch. But in 2012, Hatch was the conqueror.

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Now, as political maneuvering surrounds the state Republican chairman’s race to be decided Saturday, the name FreedomWorks doesn’t have the luster it once had among Utah Republicans.

Supporters of former Salt Lake County Republican Chairman James Evans, one of two front-runners in the race, have tried mightily to tie the other front-runner, Wasatch County Republican Chairman Aaron Gabrielson, to FreedomWorks, as if that would taint his credentials.

Officials of FreedomWorks, not shy about taking sides in Republican battles in the past, bristle at any hint they are taking sides in the chairman’s race.

When I mentioned in my analysis Monday that Gabrielson’s campaign had ties to FreedomWorks, the PAC’s regional director Heather Andrews Williamson and political director Russ Walker took umbrage at that suggestion. They maintained there is no connection to FreedomWorks and the Gabrielson campaign.

Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, was FreedomWorks state director, a volunteer position, until he ran for the Legislature. He has endorsed Gabrielson. So has former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who enjoyed strong support from FreedomWorks when he challenged Hatch in the Republican primary last year.

So my point was that much of Gabrielson’s support comes from tea party-leaners who share like-minded political ideas with those espoused by FreedomWorks.

But Louis Barreto, in a letter to Republican delegates, claimed FreedomWorks is tied to Gabrielson and wants to take over the state party. That is a theme touted by the Evans camp, which suggests a relationship with FreedomWorks is detrimental.

Since that letter was sent, some in the party have questioned the legitimacy of Barreto as a Utah Republican, claiming he just registered to vote recently.

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A source close to Gabrielson says he has been put "between a rock and a hard place." Claiming allegiance to FreedomWorks would seem to justify the enemy’s claim. But distancing himself from FreedomWorks might offend tea party backers who still appreciate the PAC’s role in GOP politics.

Ghost from the past » As the Republican state nominating convention neared last year, I was getting a half-dozen calls a night from GOP hopefuls vying for nominations to Congress, the Senate and governor.

They all wanted my love. And they all called me Sterling.

It turned out state delegate Sterling Rasmussen had the wrong number listed on the delegate list that candidates were using.

The wrong number was mine and I wrote a column item about how I hated Sterling Rasmussen, even though it wasn’t his fault.

He actually emailed me, and we had a friendly exchange.

Now he is back.

With the Republican chairmanship to be decided at the state organizing convention Saturday, I now am receiving robocalls on behalf of the candidates.

Sterling, I don’t hate you. But get the telephone number fixed.

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