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Posted at 3:35 PM ET, 02/11/2011

Hatch tells CPAC that bailout vote averted depression

By Aaron Blake

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who faces a potential primary challenge in 2012, defended his vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout on Friday, saying he believes the bill averted a depression.

Following a speech by his new Utah colleague Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the longtime Utah senator took the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference and continued his effort to recoup the good graces of conservatives. At one point, he promised that he will be so fiscally conservative that he is willing to be "most hated man in this Godforsaken city."

But when the audience was allowed to ask questions, that's when things got interesting.

The crowd erupted when someone asked him about the TARP vote, which is at the heart of Hatch's 2012 troubles. Hatch took an interesting stand -- apologizing but also justifying the vote and saying it was the right thing to do.

"You may disagree, but you're not sitting there having to make these decisions. I probably made a mistake voting for it," Hatch said, emphasizing that he didn't like the entire bill. "At the time, we were in real trouble and it looked like we were ready for a depression," he continued. "I believe we would have gone into a depression."

The hecklers weren't letting Hatch off the hook, though, and he pleaded with them to let him make his case. Finally, the moderator of the panel scolded the audience for a lack of civility. But Hatch had some friends in the audience too; there was vigorous applause after he made his defense.

Hatch has done his best to empathize with conservatives. Pitching a balanced budget amendment Friday, he promised to go to great lengths.

"I'm prepared to be the most hated man in this Godforsaken city in order to save this country," Hatch said. "And I need your help."

Hatch, you see, is facing a potentially treacherous battle for the Republican nomination in 2012. Lee beat Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) for the nomination last year, and now conservatives have turned their attention to taking out Hatch.

Hatch said that, in his 34 years in the Senate, fiscal conservatives have never constituted a majority in the chamber.

But he said there's still hope.

"I intend to get reelected in 2012," Hatch said. "I guarantee to you that I'll do everything under my power to get this mess under control."

By Aaron Blake  | February 11, 2011; 3:35 PM ET
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