Redefining the far right in Utah: Tea Party says no to Hatch, Huntsman, Romney

You would think conservative Mormon Republican politicians would have it pretty easy in Utah. Think again.

Six-term Republican Senator Orrin Hatch may be facing one of his toughest re-elections ever in 2012–and he doesn’t even have an opponent yet.

He’ll be 78 next year and has announced his plans to seek re-election.

The Utah Tea Party isn’t having any of it.

Mitt Romney

They aren’t having any of Mitt Romney either, in spite of his deep roots in the state. Ditto for former governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., said by one Utah Tea Partier to be a communist.

From today’s New York Times:

“I don’t think he’s (Hatch) winning over anyone,” Ms. (Jacqueline) Smith (a Tea Party leader) said, smiling sweetly on a couch in her living room decorated with patriotic bunting and a giant engraved plaque of the Declaration of Independence.

In addition to Mr. Hatch, two other Republicans closely associated with Utah are likely to be in the national spotlight next year — Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah, both possible presidential candidates.

And the three, Mormons all, are facing varying degrees of revolt where they might least like it or expect it — in their own backyard among mostly Mormon Tea Party members who are pushing for still more conservative fortitude.

“We oppose all three,” said David Kirkham, a businessman who helped found one of Utah’s first Tea Party groups.

Mr. Romney, who has family roots in Utah, blazed further into local life with his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. But he has since been besmirched, Mr. Kirkham and others said, by his involvement with a Massachusetts health care overhaul that is anathema to many Tea Party members who see it as a model for the Obama plan passed last year.

Mr. Huntsman took a moderate stance on many social issues as governor and also supported carbon emissions cap-and-trade legislation to reduce heat-trapping gases, another Tea Party no-no.

“On a good day, he’s a socialist,” said Darcy Van Orden, a co-founder of Utah Rising, a clearinghouse group, referring to Mr. Huntsman. “On a bad day, he’s a communist.”

What amplifies the Tea Party’s role is that Utah, more than perhaps any other state, is dominated by the Republican Party. No Democrat has won statewide office here since a two-term attorney general in the 1990s. That means Tea Party activists do not need to think much, or talk much, about the Democrats, who can largely be dismissed as irrelevant; they can thus concentrate fully on remaking the Republican Party from within, by shaping it and handpicking candidates.

The prospect of two Mormon candidates for president and a bruising Senate fight could give those homegrown views an even louder voice, said the Republican Party’s state chairman, Thomas E. Wright. “Every Utahan’s voice is going to be heard across the nation,” Mr. Wright said.

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About the Author

Scot Kersgaard

Scot Kersgaard has been managing editor of a political newspaper, editor and co-owner of a ski town newspaper, executive editor of eight high-tech magazines (where he worked with current Apple CEO Tim Cook), deputy press secretary to a U.S. Senator, and an outdoors columnist at the Rocky Mountain News. He has an English degree from the University of Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to study internet journalism at the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism. He was student body president in college. He spends his free time hiking and skiing.

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