Could Orrin Hatch be in trouble in 2012?

In the wake of Sen. Bob Bennett’s defeat in Utah, there is speculation that Rep. Jason Chaffetz may challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012. This is an idea that Chaffetz hasn’t downplayed either:

Rep. Jason Chaffetz zeroed in on Sen. Orrin Hatch’s record-breaking longevity and his age in explaining why he may challenge Utah’s highest profile politician in 2012.

The first-term congressmen’s remarks to Fox News on Tuesday were far from the first time Chaffetz has hinted that he may run for Senate, but they were surely the most pointed.

“I respect everything that Senator Hatch has done, but the question is whether 36 years in the U.S. Senate might be enough. Orrin will be 78 in 2012,” said Chaffetz, who expects the current anti-incumbent vibe to last.

Hatch says he plans to run for re-election in two years. His office declined to respond Tuesday to Chaffetz’s remarks, but Dave Hansen, Hatch’s former campaign manager and the current chairman of the Utah Republican Party, weighed in.

“Anybody who wants to take on Senator Hatch has to understand that there is a reason he has won six campaigns in a row. He is a good campaigner and a good senator,” Hansen said.

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), who switched parties last year after facing unlikely renomination in the GOP primary, warned Hatch that he was next, according to a Fox News producer who overheard the two conversing on the subway:

Specter to Hatch: So - you better watch out, Orrin, Toomey’s coming to get you next.

Hatch: What’s that?

Specter: That Club for Growth is going to be coming for you next just like they did me.

Hatch: Man - they really savaged Bob. But they’re after Republicans.

Specter: Well, they got me.

Hatch: It’s vicious out there.

There is no indication that the Club for Growth will come after Hatch. The Salt Lake Tribune conducted a survey of delegates this past weekend at the Utah Republican Party convention shows that Chaffetz may be successful:

A new Salt Lake Tribune poll of delegates to the GOP’s May 8 state convention shows 71 percent would be inclined to nominate someone other than Hatch if he were on this year’s ballot.

The six-term senator couldn’t even muster a favorable rating from a majority of the delegates, according to the poll, which carries a 4.4 percent margin of error. Forty-five percent gave him an unfavorable rating and 44 percent a favorable one.

Chaffetz had the highest approval rating of any Utah Republican mentioned in the survey.

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