Former Utah state Sen. Dan Liljenquist (Official photo)

“Washington, D.C., is broken and some of our own Republican lawmakers share in the blame,” Liljenquist said in a statement. “It’s time for new conservative ideas from those who have the energy to see them through.”

Liljenquist quit his state Senate seat three weeks ago, a common first step before a bid for higher office. An ambitious young conservative, Liljenquist has long been considered a potential challenger to Hatch (we profiled him here). The likelihood of his bid increased significantly after Rep. Jason Chaffetz decided to stay out of the race.

In a statement, Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen highlighted the senator’s seniority — he is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee — and Liljenquist’s relative inexperience.

“It is perplexing to me why a state Senator who hasn’t even finished his first term of service in the state and running on the platform of entitlement reform would want to challenge Senator Hatch,” he said. “Dan Liljenquist’s mantra on entitlement reforms would be little more than a flimsy campaign promise made by someone who would be positioned on a committee that has no influence over fiscal policy.

Hatch has been targeted by powerful conservative groups Freedomworks and the Club for Growth ever since the 2010 election.

Utah Republicans elect their Senate candidates through a nominating convention, and in 2010, Sen. Bob Bennett was unseated there by lawyer and tea party activist Mike Lee, who now sits in the Senate.

Unlike Bennett, Hatch has been preparing for a challenge, courting tea party activists and doing his best to stack the convention his own supporters.