Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who for months flirted with the possibility of challenging fellow Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, said Monday that he will seek a third term in the House instead.
Mr. Chaffetz, who has enjoyed significant tea party backing, has been viewed by many in the conservative movement as a desirable alternative to Mr. Hatch, who some Republicans have criticized for not being conservative enough.
The House lawmaker has disagreed with the senator on several major issues, including the government's financial assistance of troubled Wall Street firms in 2008, the federal bailout of housing lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and some of the senator's past positions on health care reform.
"He's served for 36 years, and I don't know that 42 years of continuous service is something that Utahns and the rest of the country want to see," Mr. Chaffetz told Fox News in June.
Mr. Chaffetz, 44, emerged as an influential voice for the bastion of young House Republicans who pressed their party's leaders not to compromise with Democrats during this summer's battle to raise the federal debt ceiling.
Many politicos had considered Mr. Chaffetz a strong contender to upend an established Utah GOP senator for the second time in two years. In 2010, then-Sen. Robert F. Bennett, who many Utah Republicans viewed as too moderate, failed to win enough ballots at the Republican State Convention to earn a spot on the party's primary ballot. Mike Lee — with strong tea party backing — won the primary and general election later that year.
A Salt Lake City Tribune poll conducted this month showed that Mr. Hatch would defeat Mr. Chaffetz by 10 percentage points in a primary, although 12 percent of those surveyed said they were undecided.
Mr. Chaffetz's decision is expected to clear a path for Mr. Hatch, 77, to win a seventh term in November 2012. But the senator has been working hard to woo reluctant tea partyers who doubt his conservative credentials, taking a leading role in the GOP push this year for a balanced-budget to the Constitution amendment — a major tenet of the tea party.
Tea party darling Sarah Palin has come to Mr. Hatch's defense, telling Fox News' Greta Van Susteren last week that there was a place for the senator within the movement.
"He has pushed hard for some fiscal reforms that we have got to see implemented," Mrs. Palin said. "We need to be agreeing and embracing his idea and working with him to make sure that that happens instead of shooing him away and shooing him out of a tea party movement."
But Mrs. Palin's endorsement won't be enough to convince all conservatives that they should support Mr. Hatch.
"We're not 'shooing him out,' of the tea party movement. Orrin Hatch was never a part of the tea party movement to begin with," wrote Eric Odom, media director of the conservative Patriot Action Network, on a blog after Mrs. Palin's Fox interview.
"Why on Earth would the tea party movement fall in line behind a liberal Republican like Orrin Hatch simply because he's done and said some good things in his political career?"
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