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Despite assuring voters in his most recent election that he would not seek an eighth term, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch now appears to be leaving the door open to another run in 2018, when he would be 84 years old.
Hatch, during an interview with the local public affairs program, "What's Up, Utah," on Channel 20, said if he is on the verge of reforming the tax code when his term is about to expire, he would consider running again.
Hatch, now in his 37th year in the Senate, is Utah's longest-serving senator and has more seniority than any of the other 99 members.
"I've said this is probably going to be my last term," Hatch said. "But let's say I'm doing tax reform and I'm just a few months away from getting it done before the end of this term and I'm needed to get it done, that'd be about the only thing I'd look at to try to stay there a while longer."
Hatch's campaign machine, which raised millions of dollars for his 2012 re-election bid, has largely been dormant since he fended off Republican challenger Dan Liljenquist and Democratic opponent Scott Howell to return for his seventh term.
During the campaign, he said on multiple occasions and in no uncertain terms that he would not run for an eighth term.
On Thursday, Hatch spokesman Matthew Harakal said the senator's re-election plans haven't changed.
"The point he was trying to make," Harakal said, "is that tax reform is a lengthy process that takes time and he's committed to it."
Thad Hall, a political science professor at the University of Utah, said Hatch is likely trying to make a point that he wants to get tax reform done in his tenure.
"Hatch historically has been a lawmaker. He's not a symbolic politician," Hall said. "He likes things to get done and clearly he thinks there's going to be an opportunity to get something done here. … After 2016, there will be a different political environment because there will be a new president, and he doesn't want to preclude getting something done."
But Howell said during their final debate in 2012, Hatch turned to him and stated, "This will be the last debate of my entire life. … I'm done. I'm never running again.
"He was so clear about that," Howell added, "and on more than one occasion … he would bring that up that he's not running and this is the reason to vote for him."
But Howell said Hatch made the same promise in 2002. He didn't believe Hatch then, but did in 2012 and still thinks he should retire at the end of this term, if not before.
"The best thing he can do for our state and our country and the world is to give it up and go on with life," Howell said, "because he and [his wife] Elaine deserve to finish those golden years together."
What's Up, Utah?
The "What's Up, Utah?" interview with Sen. Hatch will be rebroadcast Friday at 7 p.m. on Channel 20. It was taped on Memorial Day and aired once after that.