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Local members of FreedomWorks — a national group opposing the re-election of Sen. Orrin Hatch — are calling for the senator to apologize for saying that he despises them, that they are not conservatives and that they can't dump on him "without getting punched in the mouth."

Hatch is offering no such apology, and his campaign said FreedomWorks should apologize to him for its "pushy and negative campaign tactics."

That comes just days before the Utah Republican Convention will determine on Saturday whether Hatch can win the party nomination with 60 percent of delegate votes — or be forced into a primary election.

FreedomWorks attacked Hatch at a Capitol news conference Wednesday after he said in a National Public Radio interview last week that its members are not Republicans nor conservatives but are "radical libertarians and I'm doggone offended by it." Hatch added, "I despise these people, and I'm not the guy you come in and dump on without getting punched in the face."

Julie Taggart, a North Salt Lake soccer mom of four children who says she is one of 15,000 FreedomWorks volunteers in Utah, stood before microphones and said, "I want to say to Senator Hatch: Do you want to punch me in the mouth? Do you despise me? That kind of violent rhetoric has no place in public discourse."

She added, "I know why you are doggone offended senator. It's because the truth hurts" as FreedomWorks has mailed and called delegates attacking his record.

Hatch's rhetoric could tear the Republican Party into factions when it needs to come together to help elect presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, said DJ Schanz, another FreedomWorks activist from North Salt Lake.

Russ Walker, FreedomWorks vice president, added, "It is unconscionable that a sitting U.S. senator would threaten activists in the field."

Evelyn Call, communications director for Hatch's campaign, made it clear FreedomWorks is not going to get the apology it's seeking.

"The people who really should be offering an apology are the FreedomWorks officials who have come into our state, spent more than $700,000 maligning and spreading falsehoods about the senator's record, and have harassed Republican voters with pushy and negative campaign tactics," Call said.

"Utah delegates agree, which is why FreedomWorks is enjoying an almost 70 percent negative approval rating," she added. "This latest stunt by FreedomWorks is just business as usual by a group who will stoop to any level in an effort to assert their influence against a stalwart conservative."

Walker said FreedomWorks plans to redouble efforts to contact delegates before the convention to emphasize "the many ways in which Senator Hatch has voted to increase the size and scope of government." FreedomWorks was among groups that helped persuade GOP delegates to defeat Sen. Bob Bennett two years ago.

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