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Mr. Hatch “has been talking about our issues from the beginning,” Mr. Russo said in the interview. “Orrin is a Reagan conservative as far as I am concerned, and that’s as good as it gets.”

But Mr. Russo’s remarks brought an immediate response from Chris Chocola, the head of the influential anti-spending Club for Growth PAC. The coveted Club for Growth’s endorsements often have helped decide GOP primary battles in recent election cycles.

Mr. Chocola noted that Mr. Hatch had backed the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout of Wall Street — a program particularly detested in tea party circles — and has a career voting record worse than Mr. Bennett’s on the Club for Growth scorecard.

“We have made no decision about the upcoming Utah Senate race,” Mr. Chocola said, “but when we do, our decision will be about improving the Senate in 2013, not 1977.”

Adding to Mr. Hatch’s woes, a separate Mason-Dixon survey released Nov. 9 found that only 40 percent of likely voters would re-elect Mr. Hatch to a seventh term, while 48 percent said they were inclined to favor someone else. Among Republican voters only, Mr. Hatch’s support rose to 60 percent.

Mr. Huntsman is now serving as the Obama administration’s ambassador to China. Mr. Chaffetz, who has not announced his plans, declined to run against Mr. Bennett last year, but insiders say “he’s now kicking himself,” given Mr. Bennett’s poor showing at the nominating convention.

Mr. Bennett failed to qualify for the statewide primary ballot last year after placing third at the convention. The top two finishers, Mr. Lee and Tim Bridgewater, neither of whom had ever been elected to political office, faced off in the primary race. Mr. Lee, a favorite of many Utah tea party activists, won the primary and then the general election in November.

Mr. Hatch sounds confident of his re-election chances. He has noted that his voting record is slightly more conservative than that of Mr. Bennett, who posted an ACU lifetime record of 86.6. Mr. Bennett was also hurt within Republican ranks by his alternative health care proposal, which he sponsored with Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat.

Mr. Hatch is not likely to make the same mistake. He introduced Thursday two bills in the Senate to repeal two basic pillars of President Obama’s health care initiative. His bills would nullify the mandates under Mr. Obama’s plan that all individuals have health care coverage and that larger employers offer health insurance or pay hefty penalties.

The new GOP-dominated House “listened to the American people by voting to repeal Obamacare,” Mr. Hatch said. “Now it’s time for the Senate to follow suit by deploying every available tool to take apart this law.”

Mr. Hatch may not be able to rely on some of his Washington friends during his 2012 campaign. Mr. Bennett received $42,600 from the National Republican Senatorial Committee during his primary race in 2010, but Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who chairs the NRSC, indicated Tuesday that the group planned to stay out of the 2012 GOP primaries.

Regarding Mr. Hatch, “the concerns are pretty obvious … and I think [Mr. Hatch] is getting prepared,” said Mr. Cornyn, according to Mother Jones.

Mr. Hatch may find he has better friends in the Utah Legislature, where state House Minority Leader David Litvack has proposed legislation to replace the convention system with direct primary elections.

A direct primary race would allow Mr. Hatch to take full advantage of his name recognition and campaign experience. If the bill fails, however, Mr. Hatch is likely to be in for the fight of his political life.

“If the anti-Washington mood continues through 2012, Hatch is going to have problems,” said Mr. Coker. “He’s going to have to fight the hardest race he’s ever fought.”