Hatch picks up primary challenge

Liljenquist, a 37-year-old attorney and business consultant, had been recruited by Tea Party groups, and signaled his intention to run at the end of 2011 when he resigned from his seat in the Utah state Senate. He made clear in his announcement video Wednesday that fiscal issues will constitute the beginning, middle and end of his message as he campaigns against Hatch.

"It's time for a new generation of leaders to step up and take on the challenges of today," Lijlenquist said. "It's time for us to live within our means as a country, and to balance our budget."

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Conservative groups that want to send a message that centrists won't be allowed to hide behind the GOP label have made a prime target out of Hatch, Utah's six-term senior senator. Although firmly in the conservative camp on social issues, Hatch has built a reputation for reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats on economic policy, and shies away from the red-meat rhetoric many grassroots conservative groups demand.

The Club for Growth, a deep-pocketed fiscal conservative group, eagerly courted Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to run against Hatch, but Chaffetz quashed their hopes in August when he announced he would seek reelection to the House instead. Rep. Jim Matheson, a Utah Democrat, also considered challenging Hatch, but opted out in October.

FreedomWorks, a national Tea Party group that has set its sights on Hatch, placed its hopes in Liljenquist early, naming him its "Legislative Entrepreneur of the Year" in November and warmly welcoming him to the race on Wednesday.

“We are very pleased to see a dedicated and proven conservative like Dan Liljenquist step up and challenge the status quo in Utah," said FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe. "His record in the state Senate shows clearly that Liljenquist has the ability to produce innovative solutions to budget woes, and to effectively turn those ideas into action and real legislative change."

Knocking off Hatch in a primary will be an uphill battle for Liljenquist, whose name recognition and fundraising capabilities pale in comparison to Hatch's. As of the end of September, the senator had just over $4 million in his war chest to shore up his reelection.

Notable in Liljenquist's past is a stint as a management consultant at Bain & Co., the global firm where presidential candidate Mitt Romney made his fortune.