Utah Sen. Hatch's primary battle exposes rift with the Tea Party

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 26: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) listens as other Senators speak during a news conference to unveil a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution on January 26, 2011 in Washington, DC. The amendment would prohibit deficit spending or tax increases unless approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

(CBS News) Thirty-six year incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah., is likely to overcome Tuesday's primary against a young state Senator, Dan Liljenquist, according to a recent poll, but the primary battle has revealed the latest rift between long-time Washington fixtures and the people who want to cleanse the Republican Party of elected officials who don't adhere to Tea Party principles.

FreedomWorks, one of the major organizations behind the Tea Party movement, has been Hatch's most vocal and influential opponent.

The group, headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, has spent $945,000 trying to beat Hatch this primary - twice as much as Liljenquist has raised. That money was spent paying for television advertising, making more than 1.2 million phone calls, and sending out direct mail campaigns, including a 42-page book about Hatch's voting record.

(Watch a FreedomWorks ad at left.)

Three-quarters of that money was spent before Utah's party convention in April, where Hatch beat Liljenquist by a comfortable margin, obtaining 59 percent of the vote, but not by enough to avoid a runoff election.

And Hatch hasn't taken the challenge lightly. As of June 6, he spent $9.8 million dollars defending his Senate seat, according to his most recent Federal Election Commission filing.

FreedomWorks has been a key player in the recent defeat of incumbents. It was instrumental in the defeat of Hatch's colleague, former Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who lost his 2010 primary to Mike Lee, and more recently, helped defeat Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar in his primary last month.

FreedomWorks' challenge against Hatch has led to him making public his frustrations that many incumbents and members of the Republican Party have said behind closed doors. Furthermore, the debate with FreedomWorks is emblematic of the larger question the Republican Party is wrestling with: Who is in control and what does the Republican Party stand for?

During a radio debate, Hatch, who has a conservative voting record but has been known to reach across party lines to work with his Democratic colleagues on issues of education and health care, said FreedomWorks is "the sleaziest bunch I've ever seen in my life."

And during an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren in April, Hatch said "they're not people I have very much respect for. I don't have any respect for them, in fact."

Hatch spokesperson Antonia Ferrier echoed her boss' comments, saying FreedomWorks' goals are "frustrating."

"The fact they spent more on defeating Sen. Hatch than taking on Democrats is bit frustrating," she told CBS News, noting that its leader, former House Majority Leader Armey took many of the same votes Hatch did.

But Russ Walker, vice president of campaigns for FreedomWorks, said the election is not about Dick Armey, and that Hatch is the one, not Armey, who had a close relationship with the late liberal Sen. Ted Kennedy or who backed a health care mandate in the early 90s as an alternative to President Bill Clinton's health care proposal championed by First Lady Hillary Clinton's.

Walker also said the organization is "fighting for the heart and soul of the Republican Party."

"We've always said we have to win the Republican Party before we can beat the Democrats," Walker said.

Walker also says that even though it is likely that Hatch will win Tuesday's primary, he said their campaign against him was a success.

"The silver lining is that Sen. Hatch has had to abandon all of his prior positions on health care" and other policies, including No Child Left Behind and financial bailouts, Walker said. "He's had to move far to the right."

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.