J. Scott Applewhite, File, Associated Press
FILE - In this Sept. 7, 2011, file photo Republican Senator of Utah Orrin Hatch, 78, serving in his sixth term on Capitol Hill, calls on the president to kick start a dormant U.S. trade agenda in Washington. Every handshake counts in Utah’s unique nominating system, even for a senator seeking his seventh term. To avoid a primary, Hatch needs at least 60 percent of the 4,000 delegates expected to vote. In spite of Hatch having spent more than $5 million since the beginning of 2011 to defend his seat, the fate of one of the most powerful senators in the country is coming down to just a few hundred votes.

SALT LAKE CITY — The fate of the long-serving senator from Utah, Orrin Hatch, is in the hands of 4,000 GOP delegates.

They will decide Saturday whether he becomes the Republican nominee or heads to a state primary.

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Republicans are gathering outside Salt Lake City to cast their ballots, with the spotlight on Hatch's effort to win a seventh term in the Senate.

Hatch needs at least 60 percent of the vote to avoid a primary. He faces opposition from nine GOP challengers. His top two rivals are former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist (lihl-IHN'-kwihst) and state Rep. Chris Herrod.

Hatch has been targeted by many of the tea party supporters who ousted three-term Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010. Hatch is waging an aggressive and expensive campaign to sway delegates.