Utah Senator Orrin Hatch will not seek re-election; Mitt Romney in?

Photo: Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

After 42 years in the Senate, Orrin Hatch will retire at the end of his term, the Republican Senator from Utah announced today. Hatch's decision not to seek reelection opens the door for Mitt Romney, who has reportedly been considering a run.

“Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves,” Hatch said, drawing on his background as an amateur boxer. “For me, that time is soon approaching.”

Hatch would have been seeking an eighth term in November 2018, leading some Democrats to consider mounting the first serious challenge to him in years. Utah is a deep, deep red state; but polls showed Hatch barely scraping by with 50 percent of the vote.

That was a boon to Democratic Salt Lake County councilperson Jenny Wilson, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to the Senate in 2018. The announcement of Hatch’s retirement makes Wilson’s long shot odds even longer.

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is expected to run in Hatch’s place — he performs considerably better against potential Democratic challengers. In fact, if Romney manages to get the nomination, polls show he could garner almost 75 percent of the vote.

Romney’s willingness to challenge Trump from a Republican perspective could be an advantage to him in a state that has proven to be Trump-skeptical. Both Ted Cruz and John Kasich finished ahead of Trump in Utah’s caucus where he got just 14 percent of the votes. In the general election, Trump handily beat Hillary Clinton but garnered just 45 percent of the vote (Romney got 72 percent in 2012) thanks to conservative third party candidate and Utah native Evan McMullin.

Still, Wilson is not giving up. She says she’s ready to take on whoever the Republicans nominate. Wilson thinks momentum is on her side.

If elected, Wilson would be the first woman to represent Utah in the Senate and the state’s first Democratic Senator since Orrin Hatch defeated Frank E. Moss in 1976.