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Tea Party Groups Continue to Target Hatch Tea Party Groups Continue to Target Hatch

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Tea Party Groups Continue to Target Hatch

Outside groups will also have to recalibrate and decide the extent to which they are going to play in the primary contest. FreedomWorks and the Club For Growth were two groups at the forefront of the effort to unseat Republican Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010 and both have expressed eagerness to take on Hatch this year. Earlier this year, the Club took an aggressive approach, warning Hatch over the debt ceiling in a television ad. The group also released a statement actively encouraging Chaffetz to enter the race. "There are plenty of conservative Republicans who have the ability to run viable primary challenges to Senator Hatch, and we will continue to monitor the race," said Club spokesman Barney Keller. "Senator Hatch's record of support bailouts and bigger government hasn't changed because someone announced they're not going to run, and his record is something conservatives are not likely to forget anytime soon." FreedomWorks also signaled that unseating Hatch is a top priority. Russ Walker, the group's national political director, said people who think the race is over because of Chaffetz's exit are "gravely mistaken." A half-a-dozen candidates -- including candidates without political experience -- have approached them about running, he said. "Bottom line, this was never about Jason," Walker said. "It was always about Orrin Hatch. While Jason would have been a very good candidate ... there's a lot of other people who have approached us. This race might become a little more dynamic now that he's out of it." Walker called Liljenquist a "very good" state senator and said the group has "always been pretty impressed" with him. A final important consideration for any candidate looking to challenge Hatch is money. He's built an impressive $3.4 million war chest, and when Chaffetz announced his decision not to challenge Hatch on Monday, the congressman said, "if I were to run an interparty battle it would be a multimillion-dollar bloodbath." Money is less of a factor during Utah's convention process, where a candidate needs to reach a critical threshold of the vote among a thousand or so party activists to qualify for the primary. But if Hatch survives the convention (even if he finishes second) and no candidate clinches the nomination outright, a normal primary will be triggered for the top two finishers, a scenario in which Hatch's millions would be more valuable. -- Alex Roarty contributed to this report.

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