Chaffetz won't challenge Hatch, yet supplements advocate's reelection still uncertain

Yesterday, Tea Partier Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced he would not challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch for his Senate seat in 2012, despite previous speculation. Despite the news, Hatch, a longtime dietary supplements industry supporter, faces an uncertain election. If he goes, who will step up to fill his shoes?

After several months of speculation, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) of the Tea Party announced yesterday that he won't challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for his Senate seat in 2012. But Hatch isn't out of the woods yet, according to his campaign manager. Dietary supplements industry supporters, take note: If the supplements industry were to lose Hatch as a voice in Congress, it could have profound effects.

Hatch and ChaffetzHatch and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are the industry's foremost champions in government. Hatch's support began with his landmark legislation, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which forever changed the industry's landscape. First elected in 1976, Hatch is the longest serving senator in Utah history.

"It's going to be very hard, if it's possible at all, to fill Hatch's shoes when he's no longer in the Senate," said Marc Ullman, an attorney with New York-based law firm Ullman, Shapiro & Ullman, who sent a news alert yesterday about the topic.

In May, Chaffetz told Utah politicos he planned to run against Hatch, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. But going up against Hatch's coffers may have proven difficult for the representative. "If I were to run an interparty battle, it would be a multimillion-dollar bloodbath," Chaffetz said Monday. "I don't think that's necessarily in my best interests. I don't think it's in the best interest of our party, the nation or our state."

Who's next in line to champion dietary supplements?

Before he went into politics, Chaffetz worked for Nu Skin Enterprises, a multilevel marketing company based in Provo, Utah. Nu Skin is a personal care and nutritional supplements manufacturer under the brands Nu Skin and Pharmanex. It was there that Chaffetz met Ronald Reagan in 1990 and became a Republican, although he grew up Democrat.

If he had run, would Chaffetz—no stranger to the supplements industry—have been a champion of supplements like Hatch? This is the million-dollar question and it will become critical for the industry to find other upcoming champions, especially after Hatch and Harkin leave the Senate.

In the meantime, industry associations are glad for the news. Shortly after the Chaffetz announcement, Loren Israelsen, executive director of the United Natural Products Alliance, said, "UNPA will work as hard as ever to support Sen. Hatch and his reelection bid. There is much work to be done, and [the] news helps provide clarity on how best to focus our efforts."

While "dietary supplements must be protected" is not one of the nonnegotiable 15 tenets of the Tea Party, Chaffetz has shown signs that he's supportive of industry and is an up-and-coming member of the House with growing influence.

"Forget conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican—folks go to Congress to serve their constituents and there are an awful lot of supplements companies in Utah, so I think it would be natural for any member of the Utah delegation to be supportive," Ullman said.

Aside from Hatch, Harkin is the only other major supplement advocate in the Senate right now, UNPA's Israelsen says. "[It's a] critical issue to find other champions."

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