(CNN) – Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah is down playing a new poll that could spell trouble for his re-election chances next year, as he runs for a seventh term in the Senate.
According to a Deseret News/KSL-TV survey of Utah voters released Sunday, 38 percent say that it's important to re-elect Hatch in 2012 because of his seniority, with nearly six in ten saying the senator's been in office too long and it's time to elect someone new.
The poll suggests that that new person could be a Democrat. It's been 35 years since a Democrat has represented Utah in the U.S. Senate. The survey indicates that if Rep. Jim Matheson becomes the Democratic nominee, Utah voters would be evenly split at 47 percent in a hypothetical general election matchup between the six term Democratic congressman and Hatch.
Hatch faces a possible primary challenge from GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz. According to the survey, Hatch holds a 47 to 44 percent margin over the two term congressman in a hypothetical primary matchup among those who said likely to vote in the GOP Senate primary.
"I'm surprised it's as good as it is, because incumbents are always down in the polls" this far out from an election, Hatch told the Deseret News. "It's too early."
Hatch added that once voters start paying attention to the race, they'll realize they won't want to lose his seniority and experience in the Senate.
While he has recently increased talk of a primary challenge, Chaffetz says he's not ready to announce a bid at this time. But he told the Deseret News he is please with the poll results.
"I really am seriously considering doing it," Chaffetz told the newspaper. "To be doing that well with the general public is astonishing, really. That's a very good sign."
In a hypothetical general election matchup against Matheson, Chaffetz holds a 46 to 45 percent margin.
The poll was conducted June 13-16 by Dan Jones and Associates (which also does polling for Hatch), with 46 registered voters in Utah questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus five percentage points.
- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report