By Jim Ellis
Jan. 30, 2017 — Five years ago, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) publicly stated during his tense sixth re-election effort that he was running his last campaign. With the current term now beginning to approach what might be the end of his senatorial service that spans more than 40 years, Sen. Hatch’s most recent political statements indicate that he is at least considering seeking re-election yet again.
Local Utah polling firm Dan Jones & Associates recently conducted a survey (Jan. 9-16) of 605 of the state’s registered voters for the Salt Lake City Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics. The findings suggest that the overwhelming majority of Utahans feel that Sen. Hatch should, in fact, retire. According to the respondents, 78 percent said they don’t believe he should seek re-election, and 58 percent describe their opinion as definite. In terms of job approval, however, Hatch’s favorability ratio is better: 51:47 percent positive to negative.
From the Dan Jones poll, former Gov. Jon Huntsman would defeat Sen. Hatch in a Republican primary by a whopping 62-21 percent, but this is a misleading statistic. The sample group is comprised of 605 registered voters at large, not only Republicans. When just self-identified GOP voters are segmented (the number is not released), Huntsman’s margin decreases to 49-35 percent. This latter tally is obviously not favorable to Sen. Hatch either, but it’s obviously an improvement when compared to the general sample response.
The previous results are skewed because Democrats and Independents are rendering input for a Republican primary, which, in Utah, doesn’t happen. While the Democrats hold open primaries here, Republicans do not. Therefore, only registered Republicans are eligible to participate in a GOP primary. Additionally, when isolating the Republican cell segment from this poll, we see a group that is almost assuredly too small – likely considerably less than 300 — to draw an accurate conclusion for a statewide campaign.
Still, the flawed numbers here are so overwhelming that it is reasonable to conclude Sen. Hatch is starting a potential bid for re-election as a weakened incumbent.
Though Huntsman has already stated he would not challenge Sen. Hatch, other lesser-known Republicans might. If Hatch’s standing is this poor against Huntsman, even when using the improved 49-35 percent GOP only response, it appears another Republican might begin at approximate even strength with the senator. Clearly a sentiment exists even among Republicans that it is time for the Senate’s senior Republican to retire.
Seeing bad polling numbers early in a re-election cycle is nothing new for Hatch, however. As Dan Jones points out, only 40 percent of Utah voters thought he should run for a seventh term when tested well before the 2012 election, yet he scored a 65 percent majority in the succeeding general election.
The Republicans will not be in danger of losing the Utah Senate seat no matter what eventually happens in the GOP nominating convention or primary. Though Sen. Hatch is far from being considered even an underdog for a 2018 campaign, it appears his eighth run for the Senate, assuming he proceeds down such a path, will draw more attention and competition than his past mundane re-election opponents have previously generated.