Is Orrin Hatch heading for the exit?

Rumors regarding the political future of Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) seem to crop up at least as frequently as flowers in May, but according to Taegan Goddard, this time there might be a bit more meat on the bones of the latest story. A new poll out in his home state shows support for the senator reaching critical levels.

A new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows that a majority of Utah voters believe Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has been in office too long and should be replaced: 38% of registered voters want to re-elect Hatch in 2012 because of his seniority, but 59% said it’s time for someone new.

And that someone could even be a Democrat. If Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT) gets in the Senate race, voters would be evenly split, 47% to 47%.

But should Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) win the GOP nomination as many speculate, he wouldn’t fare much better against Matheson in the general election. The poll showed 46% would vote for Chaffetz and 45% for Matheson.

Chaffetz’s star has definitely been on the rise in Utah (and nationally) this past year, but Matheson presents a different set of problems for the GOP. As Goddard points out, Utah is up for another round of redistricting, and the Republicans “might decide it’s not worth the six-year risk of a Sen. Matheson, and they could decide to save his Salt Lake congressional seat during redistricting.”

Easier said than done. As this previous Salt Lake Tribune article notes, the GOP made a pretty serious effort to carve up the Democratic base in Salt Lake City into three districts during the last round of redistricting and Matheson still went on to keep his seat without much trouble. Now, with four districts after the next round, he might have even less to worry about, so the “threat” of taking him out by this process likely isn’t scaring him much.

Utah is frequently referred to as a reliably red state, but the rural, conservative areas, while large in land mass, are thinly populated and Democrats can drum up a lot of votes in the central urban areas. Should make for an interesting match-up, possibly both in the primary and the general next time around.