WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott grumbled when Sens. Orrin Hatch, John McCain and Bob Smith -- all chairmen of key committees -- all decided to run for president.

Lott said it showed that trying to lead GOP senators is like "trying to herd cats." They tend to scatter off in their own directions "and then two or three always want to run for president." Smith even left the party to become an independent.Lott fretted their campaigning would divert their attention so that it would hurt their work overseeing the Judiciary, Commerce and Ethics committees and thus hurt the party.

While Hatch's presidential campaign has left a lot to be desired so far -- he still hovers around only 1 percent support in national polls -- at least he appears not to have let it harm his work as the Judiciary Committee chairman, as Lott had feared.

Hatch has managed to shepherd through the Senate some of the GOP's top priorities nationally, some of his own top priorities for Utah and also come out well in an ongoing war with the White House over judicial nominations.

Some of Hatch's committee accomplishments this year include:

Passing through the Senate (although House action awaits) a bill to close loopholes that prevented many Utahns who are downwind cancer victims of atomic testing from collecting government compensation.

Passage of such a bill had been seen by many as near-impossible because of the many groups that might try to pile on to seek compensation too, but Hatch managed to shepherd it through the Senate smoothly and quietly.

Passing the first major patent reform bill since 1952, designed to bring the law into the computer age and allow quicker granting of patents.

Passing and sending to President Clinton a bill to make satellite TV companies more competitive with cable TV by allowing them to carry local broadcast channels -- which had been prohibited by federal law in many cases.

Banning "cybersquatting," or the unauthorized use of trademark names for Internet sites that often offer pornography or counterfeit products.

Passing legislation to beef up penalties for -- and law enforcement activities against -- making methamphetamines. Utah has one of the highest rates of meth lab confiscations. He also pushed through the Senate bills to help fight date-rape drugs and to offer more treatment for drug addiction.

Passing into law a bill to help provide more programs for missing children and runaways.

Passing through the Senate a juvenile justice bill that included controversial gun sales restrictions. Hatch managed to attach many GOP provisions, including ordering studies on whether violent movies and video games help cause violence.

The House passed a milder version of that bill. A conference to try to resolve differences in the bills has started but has not made much progress as Hatch has been holding firm on basic GOP demands against Democrats -- and they are holding firm against him.

Hatch won confirmation of Ted Stewart as a federal judge in Utah but had to shut down the judicial confirmation process twice to overcome hurdles from Democrats.

The White House has complained that the pace of judicial confirmations is too slow, and extreme conservatives complain it is too fast. That suggests that the pace may be right, as seen from a mainstream GOP viewpoint.

In short, the Judiciary Committee seems to be clipping along fine. Ironically, the thing that could threaten that is if Hatch suddenly becomes a real, top contender in the presidential race.

Senate rules make it difficult to pass anything but very easy to stall or kill almost any bill. If Hatch became a real contender, Democrats who might want to make him look bad could suddenly start throwing wrenches into the works for his bills.

That's what happened when Bob Dole tried running as the Senate Majority Leader in 1996. Sabotage by his critics worsened until few GOP bills could move, and Dole even decided to resign to end it.

Unless Hatch finds himself in such a position, he is showing that he can campaign and still take care of Senate business at the same time.

Deseret News Washington correspondent Lee Davidson can be reached by e-mail at leed@dgs.dgsys.com.