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Sen. Orrin Hatch leaves door ajar for run in 2018

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is interviewed in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is interviewed in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Before and after being re-elected in 2012, Sen. Orrin Hatch vowed that his seventh term would be his last.

But with the Republican takeover of the Senate giving him a power boost, the 80-year-old senator might be having second thoughts. Hatch didn't close the door on running in 2018 when asked about it Thursday on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."

"If we were in the middle of tax reform and I thought I could get it done and people thought I could get it done and people were demanding that I get it done, you'd always have to put the country first. We'll just have to see," he said.

Rewriting the tax code is among Hatch's top priorities now that the GOP controls Congress.

The key question would be how voters, especially Republicans, would respond to Hatch changing his mind about running again, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU.

"I would guess that his age would be an issue and the fact that he made assurances last time would be an issue," Karpowitz said, adding that Utahns at GOP caucus meetings were encouraged to give him one more term.

Hatch campaigned in 2012 on the idea that he would become chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee if Republicans won the Senate. That didn't happen then, but it has now. He's in line to lead the panel that deals with taxation, national debt and health care programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

The seven-term senator also stands to become president pro tem of the Senate, third in line of succession to the presidency behind the vice president and the U.S. House speaker. The position affords him a security detail and a driver, but he wasn't sure whether that's provided by the Secret Service or Capitol Police.

"I think the other question is then would he be able to put together an effective argument that in his position of leadership within the Senate that he's indispensable to goals that Utahns share with the Legislature," Karpowitz said.

Hatch enjoys a 66 percent approval rating among Republicans and 48 percent overall, according the democracy center's latest poll in October.

Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans didn't have much to say about Hatch potentially going after an eighth term.

"The party doesn't have a comment on that. We're focused on 2016. I'm sure Sen. Hatch's comments will make for some interesting conversations," Evans said.

Another Hatch campaign would throw a wrench into other Republicans' plans to run for the Senate in 2018.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has flirted with running for the Senate, and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, who lost to Hatch in the 2012 GOP primary, are potential candidates. Former state GOP chairman Thomas Wright and Josh Romney have eyed the seat currently held by Utah's junior Sen. Mike Lee.

While Lee, who faces re-election in 2016, might have been vulnerable after the government shutdown last year, his resurgence of late could push potential GOP challengers to 2018.

As for running again, Hatch said he's putting all his energy the next four years into working for Utah and the country.

"I'm going to do the doggone best that I can and let those types of things take care of themselves," he said.

Hatch said he hopes Republicans will be able to work with President Barack Obama, but there's not much indication that they can. The senator said he's going to do everything in his power to "befriend" Obama over the next two years.

"If he'll work with some of us, he could go out of there feeling pretty good about his presidency," Hatch said. "If he doesn't, I mean, he's going to go out as the worst president in history."


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