Washington (CNN) - A new poll is the latest to suggest that Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah could face a tough time as he seeks his party's re-nomination in 2012.
A Utah Policy survey indicates that Hatch in third place in a hypothetical three-way matchup for the GOP Senate nomination in Utah, behind former Gov. John Huntsman, who is now the U.S. ambassador to China, and behind Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Forty-eight percent of Utah voters questioned in the poll, which was released Monday evening, say they would prefer Huntsman if the election were held today, with 23 percent backing Chaffetz and 21 percent supporting Hatch.
But a couple of things are worth pointing out.
First, it's no surprise that Huntsman is far ahead of the incumbent. The former governor remains popular in his home state. But it's thought that he's more interested in running for the White House than for the Senate. He recently hinted in an interview with Newsweek that he might consider a bid for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Second, the survey questions all Utah voters, not just Republicans.
And third, there can only be two candidates in Utah's Republican primary. That's because the state party holds a convention where delegates choose which two candidates can advance to a statewide primary. Last year longtime Republican Sen. Bob Bennett came in third in the voting at the state party convention, ending his hopes for his party's re-nomination as he bid for another term in the Senate. Tea Party backed Mike Lee ended up winning the GOP primary and then November's general election.
But regardless, polling 21 percent is anything but ideal for a six-term incumbent senator.
Hatch freely admits that Huntsman is very popular, but says he'll be alright when it comes to his re-election battle.
"He's a superstar here, and probably rightly so, and he's a very fine fellow," Hatch said Monday, according to a report from KSL.com "But when people start to look at what you do back there, and who can do it, I'll be alright."
While Huntsman may not be seriously entertaining a Senate bid, Chaffetz is a more likely bet. The two-term congressman is a favorite of many Tea Party activists who helped bring down Bennett last year.
Discussing the survey, Chaffetz said "the only poll that will matter is of Utah state delegates in May of 2012."
The Utah Policy survey follows a Salt Lake Tribune-Mason Dixon poll that was conducted just before the midterm elections, which indicated that four in ten likely voters said they would vote in 2012 to re-elect Hatch, with 48 percent saying they would favor another candidate, and 12 percent unsure.
The Utah Policy poll was conducted by Dan Jones and Associates, which was hired by Utah Policy/Exoro Group, and distributed by Bryan Scott, who also serves as communications director for Utah states senate Democrats.
The survey also indicated that if Hatch were the GOP nominee, he would lead Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson 48 to 41 percent in a hypothetical 2012 general election match up.
The poll questioned 504 registered voters in Utah and has an overall sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report