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Sen. Orrin Hatch is still considering another run in 2018, but he said he might be willing to step aside if Mitt Romney decided to give elective office another try.
Hatch, R-Utah, made the comments in an interview with the National Journal's Alex Rogers on Tuesday.
"If I could get a really outstanding person to run for my position, I might consider it," Hatch said.
Rogers asked: "Do you have any people in mind?"
"Well, Mitt Romney would be perfect," Hatch said.
He added: "I've expressed it to him. I can see why he might not want to do it, but I can also see why if he did it, it would be a great thing for America."
Rogers asked Hatch about other potential challengers, such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Evan McMullin, who ran an independent conservative presidential bid in 2016.
Hatch, 83, responded by saying: "If I decide to run again, and I very well may, I'm going to win."
Romney did not respond to requests for comment.
The senator's spokesman Matt Whitlock released a statement that didn't dispel the idea of Hatch stepping aside for a handpicked successor.
"This was an off-the-cuff comment amid speculation about a number of options for the future," he said. "Sen. Hatch has spoken with a number of prominent Utah Republicans, many of whom have urged him to run again, but at the end of the day, his top priority is making sure the people of Utah have the best seat at the table."
Polls have shown that Utah voters would rather see Hatch retire.
A new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute survey conducted March 15 to March 21 asked registered Utah voters whether Hatch should run for an eighth term; 49 percent said definitely not, and an additional 23 percent said probably not. About 24 percent said he should definitely or probably run.
That figure is larger than the Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll from January, when 19 percent said the state's senior senator should definitely or probably run.
Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history, said during his 2012 bid that he wouldn't run again, but he has since reconsidered.
"People across the state are very interested in whether or not Sen. Hatch decides to run again," said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute. "One thing is clear, there will be huge political implications from his decision. If he decides not to run, there will be a long line of people interested in the position. Given his years of service and his significant impact on our state and our country, it is understandable that Sen. Hatch has an interest in who succeeds him and that Mitt Romney would be at the top of that list."
Others on the list include Rep. Chris Stewart and Derek Miller, president of the World Trade Center Utah. Huntsman hasn't ruled out a Senate run, even though White House sources say he has accepted an offer to be President Donald Trump's ambassador to Russia.
Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former governor of Massachusetts, now lives in Utah.
On Monday, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, announced that she has launched an exploratory committee to consider a Senate run.
Editor's note: Paul Huntsman, the brother of Jon Huntsman, is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.