Washington (CNN) – A Republican state senator from Utah said he's leaning toward challenging GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch, a six-term incumbent who faces re-election next year in a state with a highly charged, anti-Washington political climate.
"[Hatch] has a record and an attitude that Washington gets to dictate to Utah, and he and other senators get to dictate policy to Utah," Dan Liljenquist told CNN Friday. "That's not what balanced federalism was intended to be."
Liljenquist was in Washington this week to accept an award from FreedomWorks, a major grassroots tea party organization, for spearheading overhauls to his state's pension and Medicaid systems.
He was the first state senator to win the "Legislative Entrepreneur of the Year" award. Previous recipients include then-Speaker of the Florida House and current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
For much of the year, FreedomWorks has been angling to find a challenger from the right to compete with Hatch, who has lost support among many conservatives in the state claiming he's too moderate.
The group was successful in helping oust former Republican Utah Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010. Bennett finished third at the state's GOP convention, while conservatives Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater advanced to the party primary, with Lee winning the GOP nod and then the general election.
FreedomWorks is after the same takedown again, this time with their bulls-eye on Hatch. A couple of potential contenders have emerged, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz, but they decided against the Senate bid.
On the Democratic side, internet businessman Pete Ashdown announced he will run for a second time against Hatch. He came in second in 2006 with 31% of the vote.
But both Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, non partisan political handicappers, rank the race as a safe seat for Republicans.
If Liljenquist decides to challenge Hatch, FreedomWorks indicated the state senator would be a strong candidate, saying he meets their criteria of agreeing with free market policies, having the ability to run a serious campaign and carrying grassroots support.
The state senator is, however, a supporter of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a presidential candidate FreedomWorks strongly opposes.
But the organization said that will not affect their support for Liljenquist should he launch a 2012 Senate bid.
"If we get six or eight Dan Liljenquists in the Senate, it changes the dynamics in the Senate, and the bills that wind up on our next president's desk will be written for us," said Max Pappas, executive director and treasurer for FreedomWorks.
Liljenquist also received the "2011 Public Official of the Year" from Governing Magazine this week.
Last month, when talking about potential challengers, Hatch's campaign manager Dave Hansen said he strongly believed the senator would pull out another win in 2012.
"I'm confident that in the end, the senator will be re-elected. He's right on the issues. He's right on what he wants to do with every term and what he's done for the state," Hansen told CNN. "I feel very good."
While Liljenquist supports Romney, Hatch already received the backing of the presidential hopeful in September. Romney spent considerable time in Utah when he helped manage the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.
"Orrin is a committed public servant who always puts the people of Utah first," Romney said. "I couldn't be prouder to endorse him in his reelection bid."
- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.