WASHINGTON -- Orrin Hatch still remembers that day of terror in grade school in his native Pittsburgh when a big, tough kid from a nearby school shoved him all over the playground. Utah's future senator was too scared to fight back and went home feeling humiliated.

"I made up my mind from that point on that nobody would ever do that to me again -- nobody," said Hatch, who described himself as a scrawny kid of 10 or 11 at the time. He said he filled his brother's military duffel bag with sand and old rags, hung it on a mulberry tree near the kitchen window and punched it every day for hours."I got so that I had about as good a right cross and left hook as you could have," he said. "I never backed down from a fight from that point on." He later became a college boxer, winning 10 of 11 fights.

Today the 65-year-old Hatch tells this story with relish to support his contention that he's a tenacious, intense, disciplined, experienced, tough conservative who won't be pushed around by the biggest of bullies, foreign or domestic, if by some stroke of luck he should be elected president of the United States.

In his underdog quest to become the first LDS president, the loquacious Hatch paints himself as a wise old boxer in a corner ready to throw the knockout punch or alternatively as a politician with the guts to take on the hard issues, such as Social Security, Medicare or gun control.

Just ask him. Hatch isn't shy about himself. "My life has always been uphill," he said. "I've had to fight for everything I have."

He speaks of how he rose from a life of poverty in Pittsburgh by working hard, including selling eggs, living in a refurbished chicken coop with a growing family when he went to law school, becoming a successful Utah lawyer and defeating a three-term Democrat in 1976 in a Senate race few thought he could win.

The opinion polls suggest insurmountable odds against him. His late entry in July into the race for the Republican nomination for the presidency spurred speculation that this 23-year veteran of the Senate, who serves as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is angling for an appointment as attorney general, a seat on the Supreme Court or to be the eventual nominee's running mate. Not so, the senator said -- he's in it to win.

That raises a question as to whether Hatch is engaged in some sort of fantasy to make a run at the presidency in hopes that lightning will strike, millions of dollars in contributions will suddenly materialize, his opposition will fade, and he will be the last man standing.

Many of his Senate colleagues said they were surprised that he announced. Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., surmised that perhaps the senator, like many of his colleagues in the past, had suddenly developed a "residential complex." Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., who ran for president himself, said it's a rare senator who isn't tempted by what former Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., who also sought the presidency, calls the "lure of the office."

Hatch has long been tempted by that lure, but he said he didn't want to run against Ronald Reagan, George Bush and his old Senate friend, Bob Dole, even though he said Dole didn't have much of a chance in 1996 against President Clinton.

"I tried to avoid running this time," Hatch said. "But I've got to admit, the more I got into it, the more I looked at the people who were running, the more I thought, my gosh, I've got to run. . . . If I didn't think I could do a better job than all those other fellows, I wouldn't be running. I know I can do a better job. A lot of them don't know what they are doing."

Political pillar

To Stephen Wayne, a political science professor at Georgetown University who dabbles in the psychology of political figures, Hatch is someone "who is constantly trying to prove something about himself to himself. Here's a guy who came from nothing to something. It's hard for him to stop achieving."

Now Hatch is a millionaire senator who has become accustomed to the comforts of life and to the attention that power brings. He is a frequent guest on television talk shows and, for a man who so often pictures himself as an underdog, a pillar of the political establishment in a Republican-dominated Congress.

With his high, starched collars and well-fitting suits, Hatch with his 6-foot-2-inch, 162-pound frame often is branded as a senator with expensive tastes who has forgotten his humble beginnings. Not so, Hatch said: "I am so cheap that I don't wear a suit that's over $200." He said he has them made in Salt Lake City by clothier Mac Christensen. His clothier said Hatch is right: "The guy is brilliant, he's decent, but he's also tight."

He's also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- a fact with some political repercussions. Although a Gallup Poll showed that 17 percent of Americans wouldn't consider a Latter-day Saint for the presidency, the senator said there are many misconceptions about LDS beliefs that he intends to correct in the campaign.

"I cannot do much about bigots or bigotry," he said, "but I can do a lot about people who are misinformed about my faith. I take my Christian faith very seriously and try to live it. If the Savior himself came and ran for the presidency, and I'm not trying to put myself in his category, he'd probably have 17 percent against him."

In Iowa, a hidden base of support for Hatch may be the fact that there are more than 10,000 LDS Church members there.

He has accomplished much in his political career but only by learning the subtle Washington game of taking a hard line in public and knowing when to compromise in private. He has teamed up with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., perhaps the most liberal member of the Senate and a favorite Hatch target in Hatch's first race for the Senate, on a number of measures ranging from children's health care to job training and played an instrumental role in the passage of crime legislation.

Hatch boasts that he helped create the modern generic drug industry (a claim only slightly exaggerated) and that he was one of five senators who persuaded Reagan in 1980 to cut marginal tax rates.

"First I ever heard of that," said Martin Anderson, Reagan's chief economic adviser, although he added the former president might have led Hatch to believe that.

Surprising humor

His solemn, often preachy manner contrasts with a sharp sense of humor that many have found surprising -- and refreshing. Using his poverty-stricken past to advantage, he compared himself with better-heeled candidates such as Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Steve Forbes by saying, "I've got experience that money can't buy."

In a New Hampshire debate, he delivered the most frequently used sound bite when he said would select Bush as his running mate to give the Texan eight years of experience as vice president before he was ready for the Oval Office. And he brought down the house in an Iowa debate when he said he couldn't even lift Steve Forbes' wallet.

Yet while tweaking Bush for a lack of experience, Hatch said that if he falters in his campaign, he would likely support the Texas governor for the nomination.

Utah has given Hatch the ability to have it both ways in the campaign. He can run for president and for re-election to the Senate at the same time. If his presidential campaign picks up steam -- which it hasn't so far -- he would drop out of the Senate race.

To Hatch, the single most important issue in the 2000 presidential race is whether a Democrat or Republican will be in charge of nominating judges, especially justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said he knows more about the judiciary than any other candidate.

Tom Jipping, director of the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Law and Democracy, a conservative group, said that Hatch's "walk does not match his talk" in the confirmation of judges. In fact, said Jipping, Hatch has voted against only three of more than 300 nominees put forth by Clinton.

Hatch wants to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and introduce an entirely new tax system which he has yet to spell out. If he is elected, he said, "I'll change the image of the Republican Party. I'll bridge this gap between class and race in our society, and I'll guarantee I'll be a president for the people and not just a bunch of fat-cat establishment types who basically have run the show around here for many, many years."

The senator has been friend to a few establishment types over the years, and they have helped him, too. He has taken campaign trips on a corporate jet owned by Schering-Plough Corp., a pharmaceutical firm that is seeking to extend its patent for the anti-allergy drug Claritin from 2002 to 2004.

Hatch defended the trips, saying he paid first-class air fares to the company and that, lacking Bush's money, he has no other way to travel efficiently in the campaign.

He began his Senate career as a firebrand, staging a filibuster to defeat a major labor law reform bill pushed by unions, but over the years, he has become more accommodating, so much so that conservative true believers distrust him. "He is not a movement conservative," said Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

"I think he has learned the world is not merely black or white," said Ed Mayne, a Utah state senator and president of the state's AFL-CIO who has developed a friendship with Hatch. "I think he's learned that there's a lot of gray."

Never quitting

It wasn't always that way.

He has mixed it up with his foes in some highly partisan confirmation hearings, including those for Supreme Court nominees Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork and William Rehnquist. When he digs in his heels, said several who have been on the other side, few are more dogged. Hatch's high-profile performance in the Thomas hearing, when he waved a copy of "The Exorcist" to suggest that's where Anita Hill concocted her story of sexual harassment, for a time made him a hero among conservatives.

He brags that he is the only one who has been able to bring Kennedy to the center on issues, and that Kennedy often brings him more to the center as well. Their association has grown closer over the years.

Hatch urged Kennedy to stop drinking and be more careful after the highly publicized trial of his nephew, which a source close to Kennedy said the Massachusetts senator took to heart. But Hatch, who sprinkles his conversations with goshes and darns, said he isn't perfect and once had to straighten up his own act.

"There was a time when I used too swear too much," he said. "I've had to work it out. . . . One day I caught myself and said, 'Hey, this is not you. You shouldn't act like this.' I can't say I don't ever swear, but the point is I pretty well worked it out."

Hatch was born in 1934. His parents lost their home during the Depression, so his father, Jesse, used a $50 loan and second-hand materials to build a house without a bathroom in a poor section of Pittsburgh.

Reared LDS, he worked as a janitor to help pay his way through Brigham Young University, where he met his wife, Elaine, in an astronomy class. His amateur boxing career was successful until he was disqualified for hitting an opponent on the knee with an errant punch.

Hatch also picked up a union card by working as a metal lather like his father. He spent two years as a missionary in Ohio and Indiana and then went through law school at the University of Pittsburgh while living with his own family in the chicken coop where he once toiled as a boy. He now has six children and 19 grandchildren.

His father had refurbished the coop into a two-room apartment that Hatch said was "pretty pathetic. But it was the only place we could afford."

Elaine Hatch labored as a substitute teacher while he worked part time as an all-night clerk in one of the women's dormitories in Pittsburgh. That, and an honors scholarship, helped them survive, the senator said. After practicing law for seven years in Pennsylvania, he moved to Utah to launch a new practice and ultimately a career as a politician.

Along the way, he had a political transformation, going from liberal Democrat as a young man to conservative Republican as an adult. After building a practice as a trial lawyer (a group he now criticizes), he decided in 1976 to run against three-term Democratic Sen. Frank Moss at the urging of his law partner, Walter Plumb III.

"I won that election on sheer guts and sheer ability and ultimately by never quitting."

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