Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah) addressed his bailout vote head-on Friday in his appearance before conservative activists.

He said he regrets voting in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) but added that he believes it prevented the nation from descending into an economic depression.

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"I probably made a mistake voting for it," Hatch said, but then went on to justify the vote. "We were in trouble and it looked like we were heading for a depression. I believe we would have gone into a depression."

Hatch got a mixed reaction from the conservative crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But he appeared unafraid to take on the crowd even as activists booed him on more than one occasion.

"I intend to get reelected in 2012," Hatch said at one point, which elicited an audible jeer from someone in the crowd.

The six-term senator is in political danger. Hatch is expected to face a primary challenge from his right, and the Tea Party has been vocal about how Hatch is a target. Hatch's fellow Utah senator, Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRetreating economy creates new hurdle for Democrats in 2022 McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' Senate locks in deal to vote on debt ceiling hike Thursday MORE, declined to endorse him Friday, saying he would stay neutral in a GOP primary. There's active precedent that a Hatch 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 was speaking at a panel discussion on a proposed constitutional balanced-budget amendment, and his discussion was one of the most notable exchanges of this year's CPAC so far.

But he worked hard to try to win over the conservative movement, vowing to fight for deep spending cuts, and said he is willing to become "the most hated man in thus godforsaken city in order to save this country."


—Michael O'Brien contributed to this post.