Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah) has ramped up his attacks on Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzCongress's latest hacking investigation should model its most recent Fox News Audio expands stable of podcasts by adding five new shows The myth of the conservative bestseller MORE (R-Utah) amid talk that Chaffetz is preparing a primary challenge to the longtime senator.

If the congressman challenges the six-term incumbent, it would be one of the premier primary races of the 2012 cycle. 

Chaffetz is a favorite of the Tea Party movement, which has made Hatch one of its top targets. He’s made no secret of his interest in the race, prompting criticism from the senator.


Hatch said he thought that Chaffetz could be a “halfway decent congressman” if he just focused on the job.

“Well, he’s been running since the day he got elected to Congress,” Hatch said of Chaffetz during a Tuesday appearance on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “I mean, you know, he just, I don’t know. I think he enjoys getting the publicity that happens.”

Chaffetz responded in kind Wednesday, accusing Hatch of being an even more eager media darling, especially as the senator steels himself for a possible primary challenge.

“I have taken issue with his positions and now he’s criticizing me on my drive and tenacity — classic,” Chaffetz said in a phone interview. “I don’t ask the questions, I just answer them. ... Go back and have a look at who’s hounding the media to cover them.”

Chaffetz said he’s not likely to decide on a primary challenge for a while — between Labor Day and the end of the year was his timetable. But, he said, regardless of his decision, he expects a Republican other than Hatch to secure the GOP nomination.

“I think there will be a change in the Senate whether or not I run,” he said. “I think the 42 years of contiguous time in the Senate, combined with his voting record, is going to be the central theme of this next election cycle.”

Hatch has been aware of the threat posed by Chaffetz, whom he seemed to characterize as an overambitious upstart willing to throw elbows to get ahead.

“Well, let’s put it this way. I intend to win, and we will win,” Hatch said in the radio interview. “I don’t understand him. I think he could possibly be a halfway decent congressman in the House if he would concentrate on it. But he’s been running for Senate from day one. And others say that he also has said that he might want to run for governor, and one person even said, well, he’s even talked about running for president. Well, I don’t know, more power to him, but I don’t believe in running against a fellow Republican.”

Chaffetz has been making the media rounds this week, during which he’s openly discussed a possible Senate run. Chaffetz first won office in 2008 after defeating then-Rep. Chris Cannon (Utah) in a Republican primary.

The atmosphere in Utah appears ripe for another insurgency. Now-Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill McConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal MORE (R) rode a wave of Tea Party support to beat Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah) in a battle for the GOP nomination last year.


Hatch has been mindful of the challenge he’s likely to face this cycle. He’s staked out more rightward positions and taken the lead on some major conservative initiatives, such as the balanced-budget amendment sought by Lee. Lee, however, has said he’ll remain neutral next year if a GOP primary takes shape.

The senator has also confronted Tea Party concerns head on, attending a Tea Party meeting at the National Press Club in February, talking to conservatives at the Conservative Political Action Conference and meeting with Tea Party leaders in Utah.

This story was originally posted at 3:27 p.m. and updated at 7:16 p.m.