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Rep. Chaffetz Leaning Toward Senate Challenge Against Hatch

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Shown here are Rep. Jason Chaffetz, left, and Sen. Orrin Hatch.AP

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz told FoxNews.com Thursday that he's leaning toward challenging Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012, accusing the six-term senator of backing big-government policies his Utah constituents don't support. 

"It's a pretty long list of things that voters are upset about that he either sponsored or voted for," Chaffetz said. 

The media-savvy congressman has created buzz around the possibility of a primary challenge against Hatch, who has been in office since 1977. Asked directly whether he's made a decision, Chaffetz said: "I'm a definite maybe." 

"I'm not trying to be too coy about it," he said. "I'm seriously thinking about it. I have increasing clarity." 

But he said he's leaning toward jumping in the race and rattled off a list of votes he claims make Hatch vulnerable -- the senator's support of the financial industry bailout in 2008, of No Child Left Behind and of the taxpayer rescues of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. 

Hatch is gearing up for a fight. The incumbent wants to avoid the fate suffered by Utah colleague Bob Bennett who was pushed out by the conservative wing of his party in the last election. 

Hatch spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier would not comment on the possibility of a Chaffetz challenge, saying the senator would not address such a campaign "until he announces." But she described Hatch's campaign operation as formidable and said the senator would continue to work on issues that matter to conservatives like the national debt, taxes and entitlements. 

"Needless to say, Senator Hatch is constructing one of the most significant campaign organizations in the state of Utah," she said. "He is working every day to maintain the trust he has, that has been instilled in him by the people of Utah." 

The winner of such a primary battle would likely cruise to election in November in solid-red Utah. 

If he were to run, Chaffetz would face an immediate fundraising challenge. Hatch is sitting on about $3 million, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Chaffetz has less than $200,000. 

But Chaffetz could pull in some powerful conservative support. A Deseret News-KSL poll from February showed Chaffetz trailing Hatch by 10 points in a hypothetical race. The conservative Club for Growth put out a statement Wednesday urging Chaffetz to run. 

"Congressman Chaffetz has been a pro-growth star since entering the House, and he's exactly the type of leader we need in the United States Senate," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said. "Fiscal conservatives can do better (than Hatch). If Congressman Chaffetz decides to run for the U.S. Senate, he will have the full support of the Club for Growth PAC and our 55,000 members." 

Chaffetz also hinted that Tea Party-linked Utah Sen. Mike Lee might have his back. 

He noted that the two of them worked together under ex-Gov. Jon Huntsman. Asked whether he's discussed the possibility of a run for Senate with Lee, Chaffetz said: "A little bit."

Lee's office confirmed the two had discussed the issue but said Lee has no plans to endorse in the primary. 

"As a member of the Utah delegation, Senator Lee and Rep. Chaffetz are friends and talk about a lot of things. This issue, like a lot of others, has come up," spokeswoman Emily Bennion said in an email. "Senator Lee will endorse the Republican candidate for Senate in Utah, and has no plans to endorse anyone before there is a nominee."