The Washington Times - May 23, 2012, 10:27AM

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s re-election bid Wednesday, calling the one-time tea party target a “life-long conservative” who has fought for a balanced-budget amendment and for conservative Supreme Court justices.

“We need Orrin’s conservative Reagan-like leadership — and our new crop of conservative senators Richard Mourdock, Deb Fischer, and Ted Cruz might need some friendly advice finding their way around the Senate,” Mrs. Palin said on her blog, SarahPac.

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Mr. Hatch will face a contested Republican primary for the first time in 36 years on June 26. Last month, he won 59.2 percent of the delegate vote at the Utah Republican Convention, putting him well ahead of conservative favorite former State Sen. Dan Liljenquist.

Mr. Hatch, though, fell 32 votes short of the 60 percent threshold needed to wrap up the nomination, forcing the 78-year-old to compete in the primary.

The ouster of GOP Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana by Mr. Mourdock, another conservative favorite, in the primary earlier this month focused new attention on Mr. Hatch’s race. A number of “establishment” Republican candidates, including Mr. Hatch’s longtime Utah colleague Sen. Bob Bennett, were ousted in the 2010 election cycle.

The tea party-allied FreedomWorks is one of a number of groups opposing Mr. Hatch, citing, among other things, his support for the “No Child Left Behind” education law and the 2008 Wall Street bailout bill.

In her post Wednesday, Mrs. Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee , borrowed the words of former President Reagan, dubbing Mr. Hatch, “Mr. Balanced Budget.”

Mrs. Palin, a favorite of grassroots conservatives, also highlighted how Mr. Hatch voted against and pledged to repeal “Obamacare” — the fate of which, she said, will be decided by three conservative Supreme Court justices that the Utah Senator helped get on the bench — Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

“Unlike other Republican senators who are up for reelection this year, Orrin voted against both of President Obama’s nominees, [Elena] Kagan and [Sonia] Sotomayor. And unlike some others, Orrin has gone out of his way to embrace the tea party movement,” she said.