The Corner

Chaffetz Ready to Hatch a Challenge

Could Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), a 43-year-old freshman, topple six-term Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) in 2012? Chaffetz tells National Review Online that he could and points to the recent ousting of Sen. Bob Bennett (R., Utah) by state GOP delegates as proof. “I’m not willing to shut the door on a potential Senate run,” he says. “I serve at the will of the delegates. If that’s what they want, then maybe I will.”

“We could create the case,” Chaffetz says. “It used to be that big name identification plus big dollars equals a big victory.” No more, he tells us. “Votes matter. People are paying attention. With Bennett, there was never even a hint of anything scandalous. It was his series of unpopular votes, over many years, that made voters say it’s time for a change. A lifetime of service is not a strong selling point these days. It’s something to admire, and I respect Senator Hatch’s service, but I think people are wary of someone who’s spent a lifetime in Washington.”

Chaffetz’s early 2012 talk is understandable. A recent Mason-Dixon poll commissioned by the Salt Lake Tribune finds that 51 percent of likely Utah voters would vote for someone other than Hatch if he were up for reelection this year, with only 35 percent inclined to vote for him. Chaffetz is also the most popular statewide political figure among Utah Republicans:

Chaffetz says Hatch is vulnerable from the right on earmarks. “I’ve pledged to not ask for an earmark until there is more openness, transparency, and reform,” he says. “Hatch has said that if you don’t ask for an earmark, then you’re not doing your job. That’s not a winning message.” Will Chaffetz take a permanent no-earmark pledge? No, he says, “we have a constitutional duty, role, and responsibility to appropriate funds. I pledge to change the way we do business.”

Chaffetz does have a few kind words about how Hatch handled the Obamacare debate. “I’m pleased in many ways with how he handled that,” he says. Compared to Bennett, who cosponsored a bipartisan health-care proposal, Hatch was “different,” Chaffetz says, because he knew when to get out of negotiations. “I’ll work with Democrats,” he tells us, “but you have to know when to stand up on principle . . . what Senator Bennett did was less palatable.”

So why didn’t Chaffetz run against Bennett? The lawmaker, who represents suburban Salt Lake County and areas of Utah’s western border, says this year would have been too soon. “At the time I had to make that decision, I had been here nine months,” he says. “It was the right decision.” Instead, two political newcomers, businessman Tim Bridgewater and attorney Mike Lee, will be on the GOP Senate primary ballot. Chaffetz is “keeping the powder dry” and will not choose a favorite between the two. “I like them both,” he says. “I’d be happy with either.”

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