Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch to retire, clearing way for Mitt Romney

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday that he won't seek re-election this year, clearing the way for ...

Posted: Jan 3, 2018 9:40 AM
Updated: Jan 3, 2018 9:40 AM

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday that he won't seek re-election this year, clearing the way for Mitt Romney to return to the national stage by running for his seat.

He said in a social media message, "after much prayer and discussion with family and friends I've decided to retire at the end of this term."

Mitt Romney may run for Hatch's Senate seat

President Trump urged Hatch, the longest-serving Republican, to run again

Hatch, the Senate's longest serving Republican, has wrestled with the decision for months, emboldened by the entreaties of President Donald Trump to seek an eighth term.

Now, it sets up a potential path for Trump critic Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, to reclaim the spotlight as a conservative counterpoint to the President.

Their relationship has been complicated.

Trump has been a longtime Romney critic despite offering a 2012 presidential endorsement, and Romney has outspoken in his dissent over Trump's rhetoric and policies, calling on Republicans to block Trump's path to the presidency.

"Here's what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University," Romney said in a March 2016 speech. "He's playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat."

Yet after Trump was elected, Romney was under consideration for the post of secretary of state. The two had a warm and animated conversation at a table at Jean Georges at Trump's New York hotel in November 2016 and met at Trump's golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Trump eventually chose Rex Tillerson instead.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said Trump and Romney spoke on the phone following Trump's trip to Utah last month.

But Romney has also continued to criticize the President. After Trump blamed "both sides" for inciting deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, Romney said Trump's remarks "caused racists to rejoice."

In a statement, Romney praised Hatch's service but did not mention anything about a possible Senate run.

I join the people of Utah in thanking my friend, Senator Orrin Hatch for his more than forty years of service to our great state and nation," Romney said in a Facebook post. "Ann and I wish Senator Orrin Hatch and his loving wife Elaine all the best in their future endeavors."

Trump urged Hatch to stay in Washington

During an event last month at the Utah Capitol where Trump celebrated the administration's decision to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, Trump called Hatch "a true fighter" and said he hoped the Republican would continue to serve "in the Senate for a very long time to come."

The 83-year-old Hatch set off retirement rumors early last year when he said in an interview that he hoped to see Romney one day take his place. But he reversed course and repeatedly insisted to reporters that he "intended" to seek re-election. Last month, Hatch reveled in the spotlight as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee while shepherding a massive tax bill through the Senate -- attention, friends and colleagues said, that made him lean toward running again.

"I've always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington," Hatch said in a video statement. "But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the President is "very sad to see Senator Hatch leave." Trump has the "greatest and deepest respect" for Hatch, particularly for the role he played in passing tax reform.

"I don't think we've made a determination in terms of campaigning," Sanders said with a laugh when confronted with who may run for his seat.

If Hatch had opted to stay in the Senate, he could have faced a formidable challenge from a crop of ambitious Utah Republicans. Boyd Matheson, the former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee, seriously considered a bid last fall -- going so far as to meet with former Trump strategists Steve Bannon and David Bossie.

But as it became clear that Romney would likely run if Hatch bowed out, Matheson withdrew from contention -- an acknowledgment that the 2012 Republican presidential nominee is wildly popular in Utah and would have little trouble securing the seat.

Criticism for Hatch at home

While Hatch is revered for his long service to Utahns and easily won re-election last cycle after spending $10 million, voters are clearly restive. Three-quarters of Utahans said it was time for someone else to serve in the Senate, according to a poll late last year by the Hinckley Institute at the University of Utah.

In December, The Salt Lake Tribune published a scathing editorial calling on Hatch to step down -- as the paper named him as "The Tribune's Utahn of the Year," noting that he has never wielded more clout.

The editorial criticized Hatch for "his utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power." The editorial board noted that Hatch promised that 2012 would be his last race: "Clearly it was a lie."

"It would be good for Utah if Hatch, having finally caught the Great White Whale of tax reform, were to call it a career," the editorial board wrote. "If he doesn't, the voters should end it for him."

The newspaper pointed out that Hatch, who has referred to himself as "a tough old bird," has faced questions about his age and his health -- acknowledging that his decision on whether to run again would likely hinge on his own health and the health of his wife.

"He has been a senator from Utah longer than three-fifths of the state's population has been alive," the editorial board wrote.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 1097128

Reported Deaths: 17438
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1437882222
Lake712531225
Allen65537867
Hamilton50147482
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Elkhart39461538
Vanderburgh34221495
Tippecanoe30237271
Johnson27179463
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Delaware16425291
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Bartholomew12686188
Warrick11995189
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Floyd11869225
Grant11701235
Morgan10252188
Boone9675120
Noble9069121
Henry9002165
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Dubois8710139
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Jackson743893
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Montgomery6910123
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Washington384154
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Ohio91413
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1683472

Reported Deaths: 26483
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1766331826
Cuyahoga1641462636
Hamilton1122641528
Montgomery794721387
Summit702171199
Lucas618431017
Butler55878803
Stark525841170
Lorain41058639
Warren35404412
Mahoning35095769
Lake31445493
Clermont30711362
Delaware26682182
Trumbull26664611
Licking26200335
Medina25291351
Fairfield24173287
Greene24051369
Clark21653387
Portage20709280
Richland20587336
Wood19626246
Allen18542320
Miami17031348
Columbiana16502331
Muskingum16416206
Wayne15432304
Tuscarawas14086357
Marion13054194
Erie12423198
Ashtabula12314225
Scioto12235182
Pickaway12070151
Ross11487223
Hancock11256173
Geauga10666174
Lawrence10504171
Belmont10259231
Huron9588155
Jefferson9462225
Union939175
Sandusky9068166
Seneca8692156
Knox8618169
Washington8613156
Athens827396
Darke8270179
Ashland7840147
Auglaize7741115
Shelby7337132
Defiance7210114
Crawford7082150
Brown7052115
Fulton7016111
Logan6857108
Mercer681697
Guernsey680283
Highland6615117
Madison641389
Clinton6388106
Williams628798
Preble6171139
Putnam6089120
Jackson572396
Champaign568286
Perry558879
Coshocton5552103
Ottawa553599
Morrow506464
Fayette483170
Hardin477899
Gallia462978
Pike459076
Van Wert454691
Adams4514109
Henry424976
Hocking401493
Holmes3939137
Wyandot367973
Carroll351578
Paulding319349
Meigs302457
Monroe231860
Noble216447
Morgan210138
Harrison205152
Vinton183937
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