Both 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and 2016 conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin are considering running for Senate president pro tempore Orrin Hatch’s seat in the 2018 Utah Senate election.
Although Hatch, the longest-serving member of the Senate, said in 2012 that his seventh term would be his last, at the moment he still plans on running for his eighth in 2018. However, he recently said that he may not to run for re-election next year if he or his wife’s health deteriorates or if Mitt Romney wants to run. The 83-year-old senator told 2News on Monday that he actually spoke with Romney about next year’s election.
“I thought maybe if I could get a Mitt Romney to run, that he would be a great replacement. I don’t think Mitt’s going to do that, but I’m just trying to make sure this state is taken care of no matter what happens.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also spoken to Romney about running for the Utah Senate seat. McConnell told reporters: “Orrin has to decide what he wants to do. If he wants to run again, I’m for him.”
But not everyone is concerned about whether or not Hatch wants to serve 48 years in the Senate. Evan McMullin, who ran for president in 2016 as the “conservative alternative” to Donald Trump, is considering running in 2018 for either Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s House seat or Orrin Hatch’s Senate seat.
For months now, McMullin has been one of the most prominent conservative critics of Trump. He announced his presidential candidacy on August 8, 2016, far too late for him to make it onto many ballots. Though he was clearly never going to take the White House, he gained notoriety for his willingness to denounce Trump in the clearest terms possible, something the vast majority of Republicans refused to do. McMullin did not mince words whatsoever, calling Trump a “neo-fascist,” a racist, a serial sexual assaulter, and a Russian puppet. Trump attacked McMullin at several rallies after McMullin started polling well in his home state of Utah, sometimes even tying Hillary Clinton and Trump. McMullin ended up receiving 21.54% of the vote in Utah, just 5.92 points less than Clinton.
While he did not end up making a real dent in the election, receiving less than 1% of the vote, McMullin’s candidacy made him one of the main figureheads in the tiny conservative faction of the Trump Resistance. McMullin has gone so far to form Stand Up Republican, a conservative anti-Trump organization intended “to uphold the Constitution and defend the democratic norms and institutions upon which the protection of our basic rights depend.”
But will McMullin’s opposition to Trump help or hurt him if he runs for Hatch’s seat in 2018? At the moment, it’s not quite clear. Recent polls show that Utahns are split on Trump’s performance in the White House.
However, there is broad consensus among Utahns about whether or not Hatch should run for an eighth term. An August 2016 poll found that 71% want Hatch to retire, while a January 2017 poll found that 78% want him to retire. The same poll found that former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who is now serving as United States Ambassador to Russia, would easily beat Hatch in the 2018 Republican primary.
Not only would Huntsman likely beat Hatch, about two-thirds of Utahns favor him running in 2018.
While UtahPolicy.com found that 65% of Utah Republicans have a favorable view of Hatch, 62% still want Huntsman to run in 2018.
Nonetheless, Hatch is the only Republican who has announced his candidacy so far. Hatch has already raised $1.3 million for 2018, while McMullin, Huntsman, and Romney may not even run. And Hatch has beaten his Democratic opponents with over 60% of the vote since 1988.
Utahns may be ready for Hatch to retire, but without a formidable challenger, it looks like we’ll be stuck with the Senate president pro tempore till 2024.