GOP race to replace Sen. Mitt Romney sees influx of significant funds

Money is pouring in for Utah’s first competitive Republican primary for an open Senate seat in 30 years.

Salt Lake City lawyer Brent Hatch received a notification over the weekend, informing him that his campaign to replace Sen. Mitt Romney for the U.S. Senate seat, which his father held for 42 years, has garnered the largest investment from a Political Action Committee (PAC) compared to any other candidate in this election cycle.

The Conservative Outsider PAC, based in Virginia, has pledged $1.8 million to buy television and radio ads for Hatch in the coming month. This substantial investment will provide Hatch with a much-needed advantage in the competitive race for Senate, where numerous candidates are vying for financial support and endorsements from PACs.

In a statement to the Deseret News on Tuesday, Hatch expressed his gratitude for the recognition and support he has received for his conservative message. He feels honored that others believe he is the best candidate to represent Utah.

U.S. Rep. John Curtis and former state House Speaker Brad Wilson, the top fundraisers in the race, have set their sights on significant advertising purchases in the coming weeks. Conservative Values for Utah, a PAC dedicated to motivating Curtis to transition from seeking re-election in the House to running for the Senate, has allocated or secured $968,000 for the congressman’s ad placements, as reported by AdImpact.

According to the report, Wilson’s campaign has allocated $433,000 for advertisements, while the campaign committees of Jason Walton, CEO of Moxie Pest Control, have collectively invested $290,000 in media purchases in recent weeks.

Candidates have the ability to determine how donations to their principle campaign committees are utilized. However, they have no influence over the decisions made by PACs in terms of supporting them or the campaign strategies they employ. It is important to note that federal law strictly prohibits any form of coordination between campaigns and PACs.

Conservative Outsider PAC has already unveiled a captivating video advertisement showcasing visuals of Hatch alongside his late father, the esteemed Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. The narrator confidently asserts that Hatch is determined to confront influential figures from both political parties, all in the pursuit of advancing conservative goals such as diminishing the national debt.

Over a decade ago, the Club for Growth, the key donor for Conservative Outsider, took on the mission of thwarting Senator Hatch’s bid for a seventh term. Chris Chocola, the then-president of the Club for Growth, expressed dissatisfaction with Hatch’s fiscal conservatism. In fact, the organization went as far as urging former Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz to challenge Hatch in the GOP primary, according to The Washington Post. Hatch, in response, portrayed these attacks as unwelcome interference by out-of-state entities, targeting a true Utah conservative.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission, Conservative Outsider’s campaign activity in the previous congressional election cycle was funded by Club for Growth Action, accounting for nearly 80% of the funding. The Deseret News reported on Tuesday that Conservative Outsider and Club for Growth share the same media buyer and endorse the same candidates, as confirmed by an industry expert from one of the leading political media buying agencies in the country.

The Club for Growth’s website states that their focus is on endorsing candidates for U.S. Congress who align with their principles of limited government and pro-growth economics. They notably supported Utah Sen. Mike Lee during his 2022 reelection campaign and played a significant role in his victory over incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010. In an interview with the Deseret News, Brent Hatch emphasized that addressing the nation’s $34 trillion debt was his primary concern.

According to the political ad expert, the participation of the Club for Growth in the Senate race in Utah is just the start.

According to an expert, the recent ad buy in the Utah race is the largest one so far. However, it’s worth noting that other candidates have not made any bookings for April yet. The expert also mentioned that while this may be the biggest ad buy in the current race, it is not uncommon to see a lot of ad buys for open Senate seats.

The Conservative Values for Utah PAC emerged in October with the purpose of endorsing a Curtis Senate campaign, as he expressed his decision not to run for Romney’s seat. Financial records from the FEC reveal that the committee is primarily funded by Jay Faison, the founder of ClearPath, a nonprofit organization dedicated to leveraging advanced technologies such as nuclear energy, carbon capture, and geothermal solutions to combat global emissions. In February, the ClearPath Action Fund declared its intention to contribute $500,000 to support Curtis during the initial quarter of 2024.

Curtis has established a strong reputation through his three terms in the U.S. House as a vocal advocate for an energy transition that emphasizes affordability, reliability, and cleanliness. He places importance on accommodating fossil fuels while prioritizing advancements in nuclear energy.

Fellow Senate candidates, including Hatch, have criticized Curtis’ attempts to promote climate-conscious energy policy within the Republican party.

Utahns for Liberty, the PAC formed to back Wilson, has disclosed $100,000 in expenses aimed at opposing Curtis. In January, the PAC released two advertisements that criticized Curtis for his lack of action on border-related issues.

According to a poll conducted by Deseret News/Hinckley Institute in January, the Republican primary race was still undecided. Over half of Republican voters had not yet decided who to support. Among those who had a preferred candidate, Curtis was leading with 18%, followed by Hatch at 14%, and Wilson at 8%.

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, backed by Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Turning Point USA, garnered 3% support. Carolyn Phippen, former regional director for Sen. Lee, along with other candidates including Walton, received approximately 1% or less. Notably, 52% of respondents expressed uncertainty about their preferred candidate in the upcoming Republican primary election for the U.S. Senate.

Multiple Democratic candidates have also been drawn to the race. One such candidate is Caroline Gleich, a mountain climber and climate activist. Although she has not filed her spending numbers with the FEC this quarter, it has been reported that the Gleich for UT Senate campaign committee has spent $26,000 on ad buys or reservations in recent weeks, as stated by AdImpact.

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