The Washington Times - January 4, 2012, 03:21PM

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, has his first primary challenger, as former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist has decided to run against the sixth-term lawmaker.

Mr. Liljenquist, a 37-year-old rising star in Utah politics who for months had flirted with the possibility of taking on Mr. Hatch — who is up for re-election in November — formerly announced his candidacy Tuesday.


“I’m running for the United States Senate because it’s time,” Mr. Liljenquist said in a campaign video. “It’s time to return to the conservative principles that make this country great.”

There has been widespread speculation Mr. Hatch, a stalwart in the Senate since 1977, would attract a Republican challenger. Many politicos initially predicted U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz would run, though the popular two-term lawmaker said in August he wasn’t interested.

Mr. Hatch is eager to avoid being the second Utah Republican senator in two years to lose his seat due to an intra-party challenge. In 2010, then-Sen. Robert F. Bennett, whom many Utah Republicans viewed as too moderate, failed to win enough ballots at the Republican State Convention to earn a spot on the party’s primary ballot. Mike Lee — with strong tea party backing — won the primary and general election later that year.

Mr. Hatch has been working hard to woo reluctant tea partyers who doubt his conservative credentials, taking a leading role in the Republican push this year for a balanced-budget to the Constitution amendment — a major tenet of the tea party.

Delegates at the Utah state Republican convention in April will vote for their party’s nominee for the Senate seat. If no candidate received at least 60 percent of the vote, a primary will be held to determine the winner.