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Douglas C. Pizac, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this May 4, 2004, Utah Republican Sen.s Robert Bennett, left, and Orrin Hatch, center, talk on stage during the state Republican convention in Sandy, Utah. When the three-term Bennett lost re-election in 2010, it sent shock waves through the Republican Party and heralded a revolt that saw tea-party-backed candidates, like Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle and Marco Rubio, topple more established, mainstream Republicans. Disgruntled conservatives planted the seeds for Bennett's defeat, and now some of them hope to replicate their success against six-term Hatch Thursday, March 15, 2012, in Utah’s Republican caucuses.

SALT LAKE CITY — Disgruntled conservatives are taking aim at six-term Sen. Orrin Hatch in Utah's upcoming caucuses.

Hatch has been waiting for them.

FreedomWorks is a national tea-party organizer leading the charge against Hatch, having spent more than $475,000 this year opposing his re-election. The veteran senator has at least two challengers. Those most critical of Hatch cite some of his past votes for bipartisan measures in Congress, such as the bank bailout.

But Hatch has out-of-state support as well. Nearly 40 percent of the $4.9 million fueling his campaign came from political action committees representing insurers, technology giants, banks and other corporations and trade groups affected by legislation passing through the Senate Finance Committee, where he's the senior Republican.

Thursday's gatherings represent the first step in Utah's unique nominating system.