Orrin Hatch is raising money like he’s running for reelection.
The Utah Republican senator, who just turned 83 and is the GOP’s most senior senator, raised about $1.5 million in the first three months of the year, according to fundraising figures provided to POLITICO. That leaves Hatch with roughly $3.5 million on hand about a year-and-a-half before the 2018 election, a significant amount for a safe GOP seat.
Hatch’s haul is a show of force, and comes as other ambitious Utah politicians eye his seat, which he has now held for seven terms. Capitol Hill Republicans believe both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are interested in running if Hatch retires, and Hatch has said if he leaves he’d like to bequeath the seat to Romney.
But over the past week Hatch, who is now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has been increasingly vocal about sticking around for another six years. He told the Deseret News that he doubts Romney will run and that he’s “just trying to make sure this state is taken care of no matter what happens.”
"I’ve said that I’m going to run again," Hatch told the newspaper on Monday. "It’s two years away. Who knows what could happen in two years.”
Hatch told Salt Lake City’s CBS Monday affiliate that he might decide not to run “if my wife gets sick, or I get sick, or something like that.”
The spring of a non-election year is often when lawmakers decide whether to retire or run again. In Hatch’s case, even if he were to retire, it would make no sense to do so now and become a lame duck. Congress is gearing up to take a run at tax reform, which will run through his committee.
The seat is a prize for Republicans given how red Utah is. Romney has spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) about the seat, but McConnell said last week that he will support Hatch if he runs again. Utah’s other Senate seat is held by Mike Lee, who defeated longtime Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010.
Elena Schneider contributed to this report.