Continuing his campaign to woo conservatives to his side, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) spoke at CPAC this afternoon, telling the audience he is "prepared to be the most hated man in this godforsaken city" by fighting spending increases and taking on the establishment.
But when a questioner asked Hatch why attendees should trust him given his vote in support of the TARP bailout, Hatch was forced on the defensive, acknowledging he "probably made a mistake" but he cast the vote in order to avoid a depression.
"We're Republicans," he said, amid some boos from the audience. "We can disagree with each other but we can be civil, too." He told the questioner that "you're not sitting there making decisions."
The heated exchange prompted National Tax Limitation Committee founder Lew Uhler, a panelist alongside Hatch, to rise in the senator's defense, and offer a vigorous defense for his conservative bona fides.
"I've been in the trenches with this man!" Uhler said, criticizing them for booing, and suggested they were displaying a mob mentality.
Hatch is one of several Republican senators up for re-election who faces the prospect of a serious challenge from his right. In Utah, activists hold disproportionate influence over the nomination process, making it easier for a small number of disaffected conservatives to oust a sitting senator.
Hatch has been working assiduously to win his skeptics over, appearing at a Tea Party Express town hall earlier this week, and addressing CPAC today. He's also been voting on a party-line basis, and he scored a perfect 100 percent rating on the American Conservative Union's latest ratings - tying him with Tea Party favorite, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)