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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Chris Herrod recalled the anxiety he felt when he ventured into East Berlin while studying abroad 30 years ago.
"After three hours, I couldn't take it anymore. I could literally feel the oppression," he said.
"That's where I learned I hated socialism and what it did. But what frightens me is that I started to feel that same anxiety currently."
The Provo Republican says those feelings helped propel him to run for the U.S. Senate. Herrod, 46, announced Friday that he is challenging venerable Sen. Orrin Hatch.
"I can tell you up front that I absolutely hate the direction we're going as a nation," Herrod said. Socialism, he said, robs individuals of their full potential, weakens families and morally and financially bankrupts society.
Unlike former state GOP Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who announced his Senate bid Wednesday, Herrod didn't take direct aim at Hatch.
"You could say Sen. Hatch is an icon," Herrod said. "It's actually frightening to jump into an election against someone of that stature."
But, Herrod said, he has always been willing to go against the establishment.
Campaigning and fundraising will be difficult for Herrod in the next few months because he doesn't plan to resign from the Utah Legislature, which begins the 2012 session in less than three weeks. State law prevents legislators from raising money while in session.
Herrod said he intends to focus on the Legislature during the day and campaign in the evenings. He said he doesn't mind being called cheap and will rely on grass- roots support.
"That's going to hamstring him," said BYU political science professor Quin Monson. "I don't know if the night is enough for him to catch up."
Herrod's entry into the race might be good news for Hatch, said Kirk Jowers, executive director of the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics. Herrod and Liljenquist could split the delegate vote at the state GOP convention in April, he said.
Jowers also said it will be tough for Herrod to compete with Hatch's highly organized campaign. "Being cheap and being prepared are two different things," he said.
Calling Herrod a "true right-winger," Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen said he looks forward to the election dialogue. Hatch, he said, is anxious to highlight his conservative record of service to the state.
Herrod describes himself as an ardent defender of state sovereignty and a relentless promoter of constitutional principles. He is the co-founder of the conservative Patrick Henry Caucus in the Legislature.
"I am running because I believe this is a critical time for our nation," Herrod said, adding he sees only one or two election cycles left to change the nation.
"We don't have much time to fix our challenges," he said. "Our only chance to avoid extreme economic hardship is to quickly return to the principles upon which this nation was founded."
As a state lawmaker, Herrod has been a vocal proponent of illegal immigration reform, particularly tougher enforcement measures and sanctions for employers who hire undocumented workers.
He was extremely displeased with a package of reform bills the Utah Legislature approved last year and has been working to repeal the guest worker measure, which he considers amnesty.
Herrod grew up in Utah. He graduated from BYU with degrees in international relations and family living and a master's in organizational behavior.