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After months of speculation, Sen. Orrin Hatch landed his first Republican challenger today, as former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist formally announced his candidacy."Washington, D.C., is broken and some of our own Republican lawmakers share in the blame," Liljenquist said in a prepared statement. "It's time for new conservative ideas from those who have the energy to see them through.""I think, as Dan has looked at what has happened nationally with out-of-control spending and no serious discussion about how to pull back that spending, he just feels compelled to get involved," said one source, speaking on condition of anonymity before the scheduled announcement. "[He] can't sit idly by and ignore the problems."Liljenquist spent the summer traveling the state, speaking at town hall meetings, and he resigned his seat in the Utah Legislature three weeks ago, a clear indication that he plans to run.The campaign's website ( was to have launched late Tuesday night.Hatch has been the target of tea party-affiliated groups that rose up in 2010 to help defeat three-term Sen. Bob Bennett. Hatch has been campaigning vigorously for months to try to shore up his support.A poll in July by Public Policy Polling showed Hatch holding his own - 45 percent to 44 percent - among Republicans when he was pitted against a generic Republican with more conservative views. But he struggled among conservative Republicans, 51 percent of whom believed he was too liberal."Obviously, anybody has a right to get into the race, but the senator is in a very strong position and this race is going to be about who can do the best for the state of Utah," said Hatch's campaign manager, Dave Hansen. "I don't think the [Republican] delegates or the voters are going to want to make a change from the leadership he has provided."The Hatch campaign has noted that, if Republicans re-take the Senate in November, Hatch could be in line to be chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees tax policy and Medicare.State Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, has also been considering a Senate bid and said Tuesday that he plans to make an announcement by the end of the week."I have great respect for Dan. I think he's underestimated in terms of what he did in saving the [Utah] pension [system]," Herrod said. "I have nothing but good things to say about Dan. We bring different strengths to the race, but I think Dan would be a definite improvement over Senator Hatch."On the Democratic side, Internet businessman Pete Ashdown, who ran against Hatch six years ago, is the only candidate in the race so far.Out-of-state conservative groups such as Freedomworks and The Club For Growth have also joined the chorus urging Hatch's defeat.Max Pappas, executive director of the Freedomworks PAC, said Hatch has a decades-long record of "voting for more government spending and more government programs," including the creation of the Department of Education and later the Children's Health Insurance Program.The group gave Liljenquist its Legislative Entrepreneur of the Year Award last year. Pappas said it will make sure its network of thousands of activists know about Hatch's record."Entitlement spending is what is busting the budget and in Dan you have someone who has done major entitlement reform at the state level," Pappas said. "To me, that makes him an exciting candidate."Liljenquist won an election to replace the late Sen. Dan Eastman when he retired in 2008. Liljenquist sponsored legislation reforming the state's pension system, moving it toward a modified 401(k) system, after the nation's economic collapse punched a hole in the retirement fund.Last session he sponsored legislation to streamline the state's Medicaid program, although the state is still awaiting word from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as to whether it will receive a waiver to implement the measures.Liljenquist said it is time for "real reforms" in Washington."An entire generation of politicians have pulled power and money to D.C., abusing the original intent of the Constitution and resulting in crushing debt, over-regulation and an erosion of our God-given rights," he said. "This country desperately wants leadership, while all we've seen for decades are members of Congress who are either unwilling or incapable of providing it."University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said Liljenquist had made clear he was likely to get in."The real question will be whether Liljenquist can be the person who galvanizes the unhappiness that some conservative Republicans have," he said. "He wouldn't be the person I would pick to best represent the unhappy conservatives. He seems to be more of a policy wonk than a conservative rabble-rouser."gehrke@sltrib.comTwitter: @RobertGehrke