Those faithful Republicans who attended the Utah County GOP's Lincoln Day dinner last weekend heard Rep. Jason Chaffetz almost -- and I stress almost -- declare that he's running against U.S. Orrin Hatch next year.
Several GOP Utah County legislators told UtahPolicy on Monday that Chaffetz, R-Utah, came about as close as he could to jumping in the U.S. Senate race next year -- short of actually announcing his candidacy.
Other surveys have showed Chaffetz close to Hatch, also.
One lawmaker said of Chaffetz's speech:
"He had the door (to run against Hatch) wide open. He didn't announce that he would, but it was a clear shot across the bow."
Another said: "I interpreted his speech as saying he was going to run (against Hatch). He didn't say that, he stopped short. But that is my interpretation of what he said and how he acted."
Hatch, a 34-year Senate veteran, said that Chaffetz, in just his second two-year term, had told him privately some time ago that he would never challenge him. But Chaffetz quickly responded that he never promised Hatch any such thing.
State legislators, with Republicans heavily in the majority, will redraw four new U.S. House districts next year. And while it's likely they will treat Chaffetz well in the process -- keeping him in his Utah County-based 3rd Congressional District -- the change could give Chaffetz reason to step up and challenge Hatch statewide.
Hatch has been moving -- some would say running -- to his right politically the last year. Chaffetz has always been a darling of the right, unseating former GOP Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, in the 3rd District in the 2008 GOP primary after nearly knocking him off in the state GOP convention that year.
And, of course, U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, was driven from office in the 2010 state Republican Convention, by unhappy conservative delegates.
If any attendees at the dinner has tape or video of Chaffetz's speech, or even a hard copy, please pass it along.