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Out-of-state money, groups playing big role in Hatch campaign

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SALT LAKE CITY -- It's caucus week in Utah, and a lot of out-of-state money and groups are trying to influence these caucus meetings.

One of the most visible races getting out-of-state attention is Sen. Orrin Hatch's reelection campaign. There are certainly groups for him, one spending hundreds of thousands to get him reelected, but also some against him - like FreedomWorks, which is spending half a million to defeat him.

FreedomWorks has been holding meetings around the state encouraging people to try and become delegates in order to get Hatch out.

Ray Nelson, an Orem Republican who has attended past GOP caucuses, said he recently got a dozen calls from the group urging him to come to a meeting, which he eventually did. But he was not impressed with the negativity of their tone.

"I was, I guess, somewhat surprised with the intensity of the emotion," Nelson said.

The Washington D.C. based tea party group called FreedomWorks is working hard to oust Sen. Orrin Hatch this year.
The Washington D.C. based tea party group called FreedomWorks is working hard to oust Sen. Orrin Hatch this year.

Nelson said he's no defender of Hatch, but what he called "virulent commentary" about Hatch made him want to know more about the group behind the meetings. They are a non-profit Tea Party group out of D.C., and according to Nelson, they are trying to "stack the deck" against Hatch.

"I was just quite totally turned off by the thought that they would do that by subverting the intent of the caucus system," he said.

Nelson may not have been very impressed, but a FreedomWorks representative said that they aren't impressed with Hatch's record and they're working to get someone more conservative in his seat.

Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen said FreedomWorks - headed by former U.S. representative Dick Armey, once a top deputy to Newt Gingrich - has spent more than half a million dollars on ads attacking Hatch.

I'm not going to let these outsiders come in here and take over our state.

–Sen. Hatch

"Why they're targeting Sen. Hatch, I don't know," Hansen said. "But obviously their goal isn't to defeat Obama or to defeat Democrats in the Senate, it's for some reason to defeat Orrin Hatch."

"I'm not going to let these outsiders come in here and take over our state," Hatch said.

However, Russ Walker, a top FreedomWorks official, said ads backing Hatch likewise come from outside money.

"And if you actually look at where (the ads) come from, they come mostly from D.C. PACs, D.C. special interests and Wall Street special interests," Walker said.

A pro-Hatch Super PAC called Freedom Path has spent nearly $300,000 targeting Hatch rival Dan Liljenquist. Though super PACS must disclose their donors, a problem arises because normal PACs do not have their donors, but they are allowed to donate to super PACs.

"What I think there needs to be is visibility," Liljenquist said. "We want to know who is behind Freedom Path and these other works and spending a whole lot of money that has never been seen in this state."

All of this comes to a head Thursday, when thousands of Republicans will attend all-important local caucus meetings to select delegates to the state party convention. That convention happens next month.

The group also said after they put their efforts into replacing Hatch, they'll work in Utah against Rep. Jim Matheson.

Contributing: Randall Jeppesen

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