WASHINGTON -- Sen. Orrin Hatch plans to formally announce his campaign for president of the United States Thursday evening on national TV -- on CNN's "Larry King Live."
"That's the plan right now," Hatch told the Deseret News on Wednesday.Hatch, R-Utah, said he will also have a short meeting with the Utah press in Washington to talk about his candidacy before the show on Thursday. "Larry King Live" airs at 7 p.m. MDT.
Hatch won't be the first to announce a campaign on that show. Ross Perot once did it, too.
Hatch's candidacy is probably the worst-kept secret in Washington. He told reporters in Capitol hallways last week that he has decided to run and has been talking about the decision all week on national TV talk shows.
Meanwhile, Hatch can count on support from four of his closest Washington allies -- the other members of Utah's congressional delegation, who all hail him as a man of national stature who has a real chance of winning.
"I am 100 percent behind Orrin," said Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah. "I've made out a $1,000 check here that I'm ready to hand him."
But Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, makes it clear that he is also working to help GOP candidate Elizabeth Dole. That is much like Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who supports both Hatch and Texas Gov. George W. Bush and has said he expects to have a significant role in Bush's campaign at some point.
Bennett said, "He (Hatch) has been very upfront about the fact that he is a 'backup candidate,' and that his strategy is dependent on (front-runner) George W. Bush stumbling. Well, I think that two backups are better than one."
Bennett, who was a top adviser to Bob Dole in 1996, said he is helping Elizabeth Dole with strategy and issues "because it's in the interest of the party for her to do well, and she's also an excellent backup if George W. stumbles."
He said Dole and Hatch have support from different groups. "She is attracting a lot of people who have never been politically active before," he said, and added that Hatch has carved out a niche of support through his work in the Senate.
"I mean no disloyalty to Orrin," Bennett said, adding he has also worked with Hatch to help frame his message and determine what portions of the party to target.
"Orrin is an authentic national figure. Some people in this race are not -- and are legends in their own mind," Bennett said.
He adds that Hatch has 23 years of experience at the upper levels of government and has often run for office. He noted that Bush -- while the race appears to be his to lose -- does not have much experience at the national level, and he might stumble.
"I would have no trouble with George W. Bush as the nominee," Bennett said. "But it's not always good to have all of your eggs in one basket. . . . It would be good for him to take the field and make some plays before we hand him the championship."
Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, also said he gives Hatch all of his support. "He has a clear grasp of the issues, especially moral issues, that concern America. I really think he is one of the front-runners."
And Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said he also gives his unqualified support to his friend Hatch because "I think he will make a great candidate."
"He is direct and straightforward, and has a clear vision," Cannon added. "I think he will attract a lot of support even through it's very clear he's starting late and George W. Bush has a huge lead."
Hansen said that Hatch may be smart strategically to enter the race late. That's because while reports show others lagging far behind Bush in polls and fund raising, reports list Hatch separately as a late entry who can't be lumped fairly with far-behind-the-leader candidates in such measures.
"I've learned to never count out Orrin Hatch," Hansen said. "I think he will surprise a lot of people."