Washington (CNN) – A new poll suggests that Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah could have a tough road ahead of him as he makes a bid next year for a seventh term in office.
A survey by UtahPolicy.com indicates that 31 percent of likely voters there want the state's senior senator to win re-election next year, with 54 percent saying they are ready for a new face, and 15 percent unsure.
According to the poll, Republican voters are split when it comes to a possible primary battle next year between Hatch and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, with each man grabbing 42 percent support and 15 percent undecided.
Last year conservatives and tea party groups targeted three-term Republican Sen. Bob Bennett in the months leading up Utah's GOP convention. Bennett was defeated at the convention in his bid for his party's re-nomination. Conservatives Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater advanced to the party primary, with Lee winning the GOP nod and then the general election.
Hatch, who wants to avoid Bennett's fate, has a history of reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats - a fact that obviously does not sit well with many tea party activists and other conservatives. But Hatch has taken steps since last year to buffer himself from criticism from those on the right by highlighting his conservative chops. He recently led the Senate GOP push for a balanced budget amendment and was a co-sponsor of a Republican amendment to repeal the new health care law. Two weeks ago he also landed a perfect score in the American Conservative Union's 2010 ratings.
"At this point in time the numbers really don't mean anything," Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen told CNN.
Hansen told CNN the results are not surprising, considering the anti-incumbent and anti-Washington mood of the last election cycle, but added that "we feel very good about where we are. We have our plan in place to help assure Sen. Hatch's re-election next year."
Chaffetz, a 43 year-old congressman who was re-elected last November to a second term, recently told the Deseret News that a run for the Senate is "a definite maybe," and said he intends to make his decision before the autumn.
In response to the new poll, Chaffetz told the Salt Lake Tribune that the only results that matter will be next year's GOP state convention, but added, "It is certainly flattering to be so seriously considered."
The UtahPolicy.com poll was conducted February 16-19 by Opinionology, with 600 registered voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
–Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @psteinhausercnn