ST. GEORGE – While the 2018 election season may not be on the minds of many, a handful of individuals have already expressed an interest in running for the Senate seat long held by Sen. Orrin Hatch. The 83-year-old senator has said he may likely run again, though his office has clarified that he hasn’t made a solid decision just yet.
Though Hatch said he wouldn’t run again during his 2012 campaign, things have changed, he said in November, following Donald Trump’s winning the 2016 presidential election.
At the time, he told the magazine Roll Call that people had been asking him to consider running again. Trump has reportedly encouraged Hatch to consider running for reelection as well.
“It goes without saying that if he runs, Sen. Hatch will mount a formidable campaign,” said Henrie Walton, Dixie State University’s community, state and federal relations officer.
“He has a large war chest, and his team has laid all the groundwork for another run,” Walton said. “But all the chatter surrounding several potential opponents suggests that Republicans aren’t going to rubber stamp his name on their 2018 ballot.”
According to a survey conducted by The Salt Lake Tribune and Hinckley Institute of Politics in January, a majority of Utahns may not be so eager to see Hatch run for an eighth term.
An estimated 78 percent were not in favor of Hatch running again, with 58 percent in the “definitely not” category.
“If the 2016 presidential election taught us anything, it’s that people are frustrated with the status quo,” Walton said. “To some, Sen. Hatch represents a broken system. To others, he’s the experienced statesman that we need to fix it.”
Hatch is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, having been originally elected in 1977. He currently serves as the Senate’s president pro tempore, chair of the Senate Finance Committee and senior member of the Judiciary Committee.
Among the names in the Utah GOP who have expressed an interest in running for Hatch’s seat are former 2016 independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, World Trade Center Utah CEO Derek Miller, Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has also been a part of this group, though he recently accepted the role of U.S. ambassador to Russia.
From the GOP side, those that stuck out to Walton were McMullin and Miller as possibly “the most serious contenders.” They also have extensive experience in the private and public sectors, he said.
“McMullin will be looking to capitalize on the reputation and name recognition that he cultivated during 2016,” Walton said. “In his role as the CEO of World Trade Center Utah, Miller has developed strong relationships with many of Utah’s business leaders.”
While neither man is likely to be cowed by opponents, he said, the same is true for Hatch.
Miller expressed an interest in running for Hatch’s seat last year. McMullin has expressed an interest in running for either Hatch’s Senate seat or Chaffetz’s seat in the House of Representatives.
As for the Democrats, last week Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson announced her intent to explore running for Senate on the Democratic ticket in 2018, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Her father, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, ran against Hatch in 1982.
“Jenny Wilson will likely cast herself as an anti-Washington insider who is willing to reach across party divides,” Walton said. “But even considering voter frustrations with the state of our politics, a Democrat is going to have a tough time winning a statewide seat in Utah.”
Hatch is no longer capable of bipartisan efforts, Wilson told The Salt Lake Tribune and said he has lost the ability to find common ground on issues.
“Unfortunately, the Orrin Hatch of late is one of the greatest offenders,” Wilson said. “It’s time for the return of respect and cooperation across party lines.”
As of Tuesday, Wilson is no longer the only Democrat looking at a possible run against Hatch.
According to Utah Policy, Scott Howell, who ran against Hatch in 2000 and again in 2012, is watching the situation carefully. Howell lost to Hatch by 34 percentage points in 2000 and by 35 percentage points in 2012.
“I would have a better understanding of the kind of campaign we would have to run to try and be successful,” Howell told Utah Policy on Tuesday. “I want new thought leadership in the Congress.”
Howell also said Hatch’s being in office so long has likely caused a sense of fatigue among voters who are now looking for a change.
“We’re not electing a general authority, but we are electing a public servant,” Howell told Utah Policy. “I want to give kudos to Hatch for the good job he’s done, but now is the time to enjoy his family.”
Whether or not certain individuals ultimately choose to run for Hatch’s seat may be dependent on whether or not he finally makes a solid commitment to run for an eighth term.
Should Hatch run again, it remains to be seen if he will be forced into a primary as he was during the 2012 election season. It was reportedly the first primary he had faced after decades in office.
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