After several back-and-forths deciding whether or not to run for reelection or retire, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has finally made his decision. And a familiar two-time presidential candidate may quickly take his place.
The senior Senator from Utah, first elected in 1976, has been in office for 41 years. He is the longest-serving Republican Senator in history, and 2018 would mark the beginning of his eighth six-year term, if he won reelection.
Despite claiming that 2012 would be his final election, Hatch eventually announced his intentions to run again in 2018. However, his declaration was met with widespread skepticism; one poll showed over 70% of Utah voters opposed to Hatch’s possible eighth term, while only 19% supported it.
When this is combined with the widespread anti-incumbent sentiment already spreading even further and claiming such victims as Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, it should come as no surprise that Hatch - after initially only telling his family and close friends - announced on Twitter that he has finally made his retirement official.
But the main story coming out of this development is not Hatch’s retirement; instead, most of the focus is on the man who is likely to replace him: former Massachusetts governor and two-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Although Romney’s prior runs for statewide office were based in Massachusetts - losing the U.S. Senate election to Ted Kennedy in 1994 and being elected governor in 2002 - he has since resided in the state of Utah, where he is heavily involved with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This, combined with his national name recognition, has made him the overwhelming favorite to run for Hatch’s seat; several opinion polls have given him a large majority over the likely Democratic nominee, Salt Lake County councilwoman Jenny Wilson.
After being the runner-up for the Republican nomination in 2008, Romney won the 2012 nomination but lost the general election to Barack Obama. Although declining to run a third consecutive time in 2016, he nonetheless became very vocal as one of the major Republican opponents to nominee Donald Trump, giving several anti-Trump speeches over the course of the campaign. But after Trump won the election, Romney began praising the president-elect and met with him several times to interview for the position of Secretary of State.
Since being denied for the position, Romney has returned to occasionally taking jabs at President Trump, including opposing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. On the subject of a potential Utah Senate run and Senator Romney’s position on the president, a Romney spokesperson said that if Romney is elected, he’ll take a middle-of-the-road approach to President Trump’s policies; allegedly, he will “be a big supporter” of the president when they find common ground, and “when there are things he disagrees with, he’ll voice that.”
The Utah Senate seat is up in 2018, along with seven other Republican-held seats. Although it is considered among the safest of the red seats that year, the outcome will nevertheless be one of the most closely-watched if Romney jumps into the race.