Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed Overnight Regulation: Trump temporarily lifts Jones Act for Puerto Rico | Bill would exempt some banks from Dodd-Frank | Senators unveil driverless car bill MORE (R) said Friday that he wouldn't endorse fellow Utah Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP eyes limits on investor tax break Children’s health-care bill faces new obstacles Overnight Finance: White House requests B for disaster relief | Ex-Equifax chief grilled over stock sales | House panel approves B for border wall | Tax plan puts swing-state Republicans in tough spot MORE (R) for reelection in the 2012 GOP Senate primary.

Lee, a freshman senator allied with the conservative Tea Party movement, said he would stay neutral in the Republican primary, paving the way for a conservative challenger to Hatch.

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"It's not my intention to support any candidate until the democratic process has had a chance to play itself out in Utah," Lee said on MSNBC.

Lee's decision not to endorse Hatch speaks volumes about the political danger Hatch faces in 2012. The veteran GOP senator is expected to face a primary challenge from his right, and there's active precedent that a challenger could succeed; Lee, after all, succeeded in wresting the Republican nomination from veteran Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in a primary race last year.

Hatch has been working to promote his conservative credentials, and has been conducting outreach to Tea Party groups. He participated earlier this week, for instance, in an online town hall organized by the Tea Party Express, one of the largest groups in the movement.

Lee said he wishes Hatch well, but was pointed in refusing to say he would endorse his colleague for reelection.

"That's not up to me, that's up to the voters of Utah once we get into 2012," Lee explained, adding that he could "absolutely endorse" Hatch — if he emerges victorious from a Republican primary.

That primary process could be rigged to benefit conservatives, though. Lee beat Bennett last year due to domination by conservatives at a state party convention. Any challenger to Hatch — Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzOvernight Finance: Trump pitches massive tax cuts | Freedom Caucus endorses plan | Dems slam framework | House GOP to move B border wall bill | Officials under fire for private jet use GOP lawmaker pushes to end sports leagues' tax-exempt status Republicans predict Senate ObamaCare repeal would pass House MORE (R-Utah) is said to be considered running — might take advantage of that process, too.