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If you believe Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the best way to insult him is not to say his dog is ugly or that his mother wears combat boots. Instead, ask him if he's running for president.

At a round-table discussion Wednesday with reporters at the National Press Club, someone asked him exactly that.Hatch laughed and responded, "Thank you for asking the question - except that it's an insult to me to think I'd be that stupid. I mean, do I look that dumb?"

Maybe not now, but aides and others close to Hatch over the years have said he's toyed with such a thought in the past. Hatch has said they were never serious considerations - and that such talk only irritates other senators and voters, clouding whether work is being done to help people or presidential aspirations.

In fact, Hatch said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas - who is planning to run for president - may be irritating a few too many senators now by trying to lead on too many issues and too often take the spotlight, which they see as only trying to help his bid.

"I think Phil needs to back off a wee bit," Hatch said. However, noting he and Gramm are friends, Hatch added that he thinks Gramm would be a formidable presidential candidate.

But Hatch said some others are more or equally formidable.

He said the Republican to beat at the moment may be Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan. "You have to put Dole at the top of the list. He is bright, well-known . . . and is the national Republican leader right now."

Hatch said not far behind may be former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who has served in the White House as a chief of staff, was in the U.S. House "and was a great secretary of defense."

He also likes the chances of former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell. "No one knows if he is a Republican yet. But I believe he is. But everyone knows the far right drives him crazy. Join the party," Hatch said.

He adds Republicans would love to see Powell in their presidential sweepstakes to help attract more African-Americans to the party. "He may have a better chance to be the vice presidential nominee, though," Hatch said.

Hatch said conservative Jack Kemp and former Vice President Dan Quayle will also have strong campaigns but may be longer shots than the others right now.

With all that, why exactly does Hatch feel it would be stupid to even run? "Because I'm running for the U.S. Senate," he said - apparently not wanting any sidetracking of issues or charges that he cares more about a national career than his Utah constituency.