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Utah's Republican Caucuses Attract Attention and Money

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Senator Orrin Hatch stands to lose his Senate seat, depending on the outcome of Utah's Republican caucuses.

By Andrea Smardon

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kuer/local-kuer-1006686.mp3

Salt Lake City, UT – FreedomWorks for America is an advocacy organization chaired by former House Majority leader Dick Armey. The organization has already spent more than a half million dollars on attack ads this year in an attempt to retire Senator Hatch. Russ Walker is the national political director.

"We're well aware that this race can be won or lost on caucus night. That's why we're involved," Walker said.

FreedomWorks was mobilizing in Utah in 2010 in the effort to get Senator Bob Bennett out of office. Ultimately, the delegates elected tea party candidate Mike Lee at the Republican Convention, avoiding a primary. Walker says they're targeting Hatch because they want a Senator who is more fiscally conservative.

"Utah can do better than what they have. This is about transforming Washington DC and transforming the US Senate so that we can create a smaller, more limited form of government," said Walker.

Senator Hatch says FreedomWorks is an outside group trying to infiltrate the GOP.

"If we let those people come in and take over this state, I mean my gosh, it's going to be a doggone mess here. They've told me frankly, we're going to take over the Republican party. One reason I'm running some a strong campaign is to make sure that they don't. We just can't let that happen," said Hatch.

Hatch has easily outspent Freedomworks and his opponents - state representative Chris Herrod and former state Senator Dan Liljenquist - combined. On top of that, there are two super-PACS running pro-Hatch ads in Utah. One called Freedom Path has taken aim at Liljenquist, but he says the ads have actually helped him build name recognition.

"They've been the most negative of the SuperPACS against me personally," said Liljenquist, "But you know what they've done? They've helped people learn how to pronounce Liljenquist which I'm grateful for."

Liljenquist says that despite the outside money, he thinks the caucus system helps to level the playing field, by allowing candidates to focus on the 4000 delegates elected.

"We have the best system in the world for leveling out the influence of out-of state money in races because you can for much less money compete and get your message to 4000 voters - to look them in the eye and say here's what I'll do," said Liljenquist, "That gives Utah the unique opportunity to have people without the millions of millions of dollars that typically flow into an incumbent senators coffer to have a chance, and we feel like we've got a good chance."

Once the delegates are chosen, the candidates and the advocacy groups will have about 5 weeks to make their case before the state Republican Convention in April.

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