SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz hasn't decided whether he'll seek fellow Utah Republican Orrin Hatch's Senate seat, but his movements in the upcoming week indicate he's seriously considering it.
Chaffetz was set to launch a statewide campaign tour on Monday, beginning in the northern Utah mining town of Castle outside his congressional district. He will host three more town halls and a fundraiser throughout the week, with only one of the scheduled events in his current district — a Wednesday town hall in American Fork.
While he held town halls in other districts last year as well, he admits a potential Senate run is part of his motivation for this week's statewide plans. But he also said that his boundaries could significantly change after state lawmakers finish redistricting, and he wants to be prepared.
Chaffetz said he plans to make an announcement shortly after Labor Day. Until then, he'll take a simple message to voters.
"People are mad and they're upset at their government," Chaffetz said. "I agree with them, and it strengthens me to hear their perspective."
For his part, Hatch will host an economic summit, a forum for senior citizens and a round-table discussion about national defense during the August congressional break, spokeswoman Heather Barney said. There will also be smaller meetings with constituents and Republican delegates.
Hatch's only scheduled town hall is on August 18 in southern Utah, but Barney said most of his events will provide a chance for people to ask questions.
"We're not concerned about Jason Chaffetz's schedule," Barney said. "We're focused on Hatch's schedule ... he's campaigning hard, and will be in many places around the state."
The prospect of a challenge by Chaffetz, a tea party favorite, has forced Hatch to push hard to the political right, leading Utah Democrats to believe they may have a shot at winning a statewide race, something they haven't done since the 1990s.
"It's going to be great political theater to watch the tea party Republicans and regular Republicans annihilate each other," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, who even suggested that a three-way fight — with Hatch running as an independent — was possible.
The Democrat's best hope for victory in the race lies with Rep. Jim Matheson, who has proven popular with voters from both parties since winning his congressional seat in 2000. He declined to comment, but has said he is considering a Senate run.
Josh Loftin can be reached at http://twitter.com/joshloftin.
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