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Sen. Orrin Hatch has amassed a campaign balance nearly 13 times the size of his Republican primary opponent Dan Liljenquist's, leaving the challenger planning a low-budget effort that will rely on volunteers and social media.
But anti-Hatch or pro-Liljenquist ads still could flood TV, radio and mailboxes before the June 26 runoff election.
FreedomWorks, an independent national group opposing Hatch, says it is planning an "aggressive" campaign against him and will "spend what is needed." The group two years ago worked hard to oust Sen. Bob Bennett and so far has poured $782,000 into fighting Hatch.
Russ Walker, FreedomWorks national political director, said in an interview that "we still believe Hatch can be defeated," even though he won 59 percent of delegate votes at the Utah Republican Convention on Saturday and a Salt Lake Tribune poll this month showed Hatch with 62 percent support among all GOP voters.
Walker said FreedomWorks is still developing its strategy, but plans some TV, radio and mail ads along with its own grassroots work with volunteers. It may release more information Thursday in a conference call it has scheduled with reporters to make what it calls "an important announcement pertaining to the Utah Senate and House races."
"Hatch is a formidable opponent," Walker said. "It will take us, and as many other groups like us as possible, to counter his spending. It will also require Dan to run a quality campaign. But we can't even talk to his campaign [by law], and we can't coordinate."
Dave Hansen, Hatch's campaign manager, said he never believed the group would vanish after the convention.
"We expected all along that FreedomWorks would get back in it," Hansen said. "Their reception will be about the same that they received before the caucuses. Voters don't like them, don't want them here and don't believe their lies and distortions."
Disclosure forms filed before the conventions showed that Hatch had $3.25 million in cash on hand, while Liljenquist had just $242,000. "But we've been outspent 30-to-1 so far, and it hasn't stopped us," Liljenquist said.
The former state senator said he can't match Hatch's spending and won't try but believes he can raise enough to conduct a quality campaign.
"We're going to take our message out individually with grassroots and with social media. We'll be going door to door, This is grassroots at its finest," he said. "We have more than 1,000 volunteers. We picked up hundreds more on Saturday. We're going to do with volunteers what Senator Hatch does with paid staff and we think that will narrow the spending advantage."
He is challenging Hatch to eight debates, but added, "It is our anticipation that they will probably not want to debate given Senator Hatch's performance in the last debates," Liljenquist said.
Hansen, meanwhile, said that he expected a few debates.
"Some campaigns think that debates are the only way to communicate with voters. There are many ways. We'll probably use them all. We'll have some discussion about debates, but we have not made a decision on that yet," he said.
Hansen also said Hatch fully intends to use his big cash advantage. "We will use our resources as needed to make sure we will get the senator's message out."
Walker said FreedomWorks plans to do the same, although he declined to discuss how much it may spend. He notes Hatch is also aided by some groups making independent expenditures.
Liljenquist declined to comment about FreedomWorks' efforts because he said, "I can't control what FreedomWorks is going to do."
However, he and Hatch said in earlier debates that they wish outside groups would stay out of the race.
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