SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch is being targeted this election by FreedomWorks, but that hasn't stopped an official of the Washington, D.C.-based tea party organization from endorsing him.

The Utah Republican announced Wednesday that Steve Forbes, the vice chairman of the FreedomWorks Foundation Board and president and CEO of Forbes Inc., is backing his bid for a seventh term.

Forbes said in a letter released by Hatch that he has known Utah's senior senator "since the late 1970s when you first came to the Senate and courageously battled anti-growth, anti-business legislation being vigorously pushed by Big Labor."

Such a stand "was not fashionable in Washington in those days, but you were not to be deterred. Your pro-growth, pro-entrepreneurial efforts continue to this day," said Forbes, a former GOP presidential candidate.

Hatch said "receiving an endorsement from Steve Forbes, who is widely recognized as one of our country's most respected names in economic policy, is a great honor."

The announcement comes just days after the president of FreedomWorks, Matt Kibbe, visited Utah to vet potential challengers to Hatch for the GOP nomination. Kibbe told the Deseret News he expects the organization to be "heavily invested" in the race.

Kibbe talked with Utah tea party organizer David Kirkham and state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, but said he wasn't ready to support a specific candidate.

— Lisa Riley Roche