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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET


Jake Gibson

Washington, DC


Tea Party Flexes Muscle in Utah

May 10, 2010 - 9:04 PM | by: Jake Gibson

WASHINGTON (FOX) – The tea party activists and outside groups instrumental in the ouster of Republican Senator Bob Bennett of Utah are now turning their attention to other GOP primary elections.

The defeat of Bennett, 76, a three-term senator, raises questions about the political future of incumbents all over the country, including that of his fellow Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (R).

Rumors have been swirling that Hatch may face a 2012 challenge from Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut).

Chaffetz did little to shoot down the idea when I spoke to him by phone this afternoon.

“It’s a possibility, I’m not taking anything off the table.” Said Chaffetz. ” This anti-incumbent sentiment is a tsunami that isn’t going away… I respect everything Senator Hatch has done, but the question is whether 36 years in the US senate might be enough. Orrin will be 78 in 2012.”

Freedom Works, a national group which helps coordinate tea party activism, played heavily in the Utah GOP primary, sending staff and spending money in the state.

“Our first goal was to prevent Senator Bennett from making it to the Utah primary” Said Freedom Works Campaign Director Brendan Steinhauser. “The process in Utah was attractive to us because it seemed like a place where we could make a big impact and get a lot of bang for out buck.”

In Utah groups like FreedomWorks and The Club for Growth could spend time and money targeting the voters directly. The Club for Growth provided a 30-page booklet to all 3,500 delegates attending Saturday’s state GOP convention, detailing Senator Bennett’s controversial votes and earmarks.

However, the May 18 Kentucky GOP primary is a traditional election, open to all registered Republicans.

Secretary of State Trey Grayson is the establishment candidate, handpicked by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).

The insurgent candidate is Rand Paul, the son of 2008 presidential candidate phenom Ron Paul of Texas. Paul has the support of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R), and the man who presently occupies the seat, retiring Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky).

Paul also has the support of many tea party activists and Freedom Works, which will be involved in the Kentucky race as well. FreedomWorks staffers say they will be helping in get out the vote efforts over the final days as well as “phone banking,” where activists can call independent Kentucky voters and lobby them from out of state.

The anti-incumbent sentiment is not lost on national Republican leaders either. Republican National Chairman Michael Steele spoke to Fox News today, saying candidates ignore the tea party at their peril. “It’s the political dynamic that I warned about a year ago… The ground is moving beneath our feet. You cannot take incumbency for granted.”