Tom Smart, Deseret News
Dave Hansen, Chairman of the Utah Republican Party, at the Salt Lake County Republican Convention Saturday, April 24, 2010 in Sandy, Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — State GOP Chairman Dave Hansen is stepping down early, the Deseret News has learned, apparently to work on Sen. Orrin Hatch's re-election campaign.

Hansen, whose two-year term as head of the party doesn't end until June, is expected to make the announcement at Saturday's Republican Central Committee meeting. He would stay on as chairman until his replacement is named, likely at the committee's January meeting.

"I'm not going to get into what's going to happen on Saturday," Hansen said when asked about his decision to resign. "We're just going to have to wait and see."

But he acknowledged the bulk of his work as chairman ended with the November elections, which saw major victories for the GOP, including additional seats in the state Legislature and a big win for Gov. Gary Herbert over his Democratic challenger, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

Hansen served as Hatch's campaign manager for the 2006 election and is gearing up for what will likely be a tough campaign. Hatch potentially faces the same treatment as outgoing Sen. Bob Bennett, who was ousted at the party's state convention earlier this year. Among Hatch's possible opponents are Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said it makes sense for Hansen to return to working for Hatch.

"It's no surprise that Dave Hansen, who has been a loyal supporter and consultant for Sen. Hatch for years, with a potentially difficult and contested race coming, would go rejoin his political godfather," Jowers said.

He said Hansen will be missed.

"I have a lot of respect and appreciation for anyone who gets involved in the political process," Jowers said. "The Republican chair is not paid, and it's thankless. He did a good job at it."

Hatch's office declined to comment. "Senator Hatch will let Dave Hansen make his own announcement of what his future holds politically," Hatch spokeswoman Heather Barney said.

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There was some controversy within the Utah GOP after Hansen wrapped up his campaign work for Hatch in 2009 and became chair of the state Republican Party. It was over 12 separate $5,000 monthly payments Hansen received from Hatch for campaign consulting.

A number of potential successors to Hansen are already being discussed, including Salt Lake County GOP Chairman Thomas Wright, former GOP congressional candidate Morgan Philpot, state party vice chair Kitty Dunn and former party official Todd Weiler.