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Washington • Supporters of Sen. Orrin Hatch including his Senate colleagues and Utah officials are eager to keep the longtime Utah Republican in office, encouraging him to seek re-election in 2018 despite past promises that his 2012 run was his last.
"I've been encouraging Orrin to run, and I hope he does," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement.
"We have a new president, a vacancy on the Supreme Court and divisions to heal," added Enid Mickelsen, a former congresswoman and onetime head of the Utah Republican Party. "Nobody can unite the Republican Party in Utah and nationally, like Orrin Hatch. I hope he will consider continuing to serve our state and our nation."
Hatch, who was first elected to the Senate in 1976, said four years ago that that re-election bid would be his final one but has since walked that back, noting that his position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee means he could help rewrite the tax code and advance Utah's interests in Washington.
Hatch, as the longest-serving Republican now in the Senate, is also the chamber's president pro tempore, a mostly ceremonial role but one that keeps him in constant contact with the Senate leaders and makes him third in line for the presidency.
The 82-year-old Hatch told reporters this week he's considering an eighth term, "especially" because of the victory of President-elect Donald Trump, returning Republicans to the White House for the first time in eight years.
"Yeah, I'd have to say I am, with the encouragement I'm receiving and knowing what I can do," Hatch said. He added his position as Finance chairman could be helpful for Utah: "It's hard not to think that what's best for my state is to put in a few more years."
While a chorus of voices is pushing the Utah Republican to stay in the Senate, others say it's time he passed the baton.
"I thought four years ago he'd served long enough for Utah, so I continue to think he has served long enough for Utah," said Holly Richardson, a former state GOP lawmaker who worked to defeat Hatch in 2012. "I would like to see someone with fresh ideas and a commitment to not staying there for more than four decades or nearly five decades if [Hatch] wins another term. I just think it's time. It's time for him to come home."
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has said he is entertaining a Senate bid, though he offered somewhat backhanded praise for Hatch.
"I've long believed in term limits for members of Congress, but Orrin has always worked hard for the people of Utah and for almost half a century," Huntsman said. Hatch has served 40 years.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who had considered a run against Hatch in 2012, declined to say what he believes Hatch should do in two years.
"I'm going to stay a million miles away from that one," Chaffetz said. "He needs to make that decision himself, and the voters of Utah get to decide if they concur."
Some other Utahns who had privately suggested Hatch retire at the end of his term, declined to comment on the record.
But there were plenty ready to say publicly how much they support Hatch.
Some of those comments were provided by his office.
"I have strongly encouraged Senator Hatch to run again. He is indispensable to Utah and does more for our state than anyone in Washington," said Don Peay, founder of the group Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife and who led the Trump campaign in Utah. "Hatch is respected by every leader and communicates regularly with President-elect Trump. From confirming conservative Supreme Court justices, to repealing and replacing Obamacare, to growing jobs and the economy, Hatch is key to advancing the Republican agenda."
Trump's election may have helped tip Hatch in favor of another term now that Republicans control Congress and the White House. Hatch has four more years as Finance chairman under GOP rules.
Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who led the GOP's efforts to keep the Senate in Republican hands, said Hatch was critical to that effort.
"His effectiveness as a legislator is unparalleled we turn to him when we need to get things done," said Wicker, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "He means so much to Republicans and the Senate, and I hope he will consider continuing to serve the people of Utah."
Hatch is the ninth longest-serving senator in U.S. history at the moment and by the end of his current term would surpass several others who spent 41 years in the upper chamber. If Hatch were re-elected and served out a full eighth term, he would likely be the third longest-serving senator in history, passing Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., who spent 47½ years in office.