ST. GEORGE – Should he seek reelection, long-serving Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch could face a primary opponent in 2018 in the form of Boyd Matheson, Sen. Mike Lee’s former chief of staff.
Matheson, who is currently heads the conservative, Utah-based Sutherland Institute, told Politico Monday he is considering a run for Hatch’s U.S. Senate seat during the mid-term election cycle. The decision will be made regardless of whether Hatch chooses to run or finally retire for public office.
According to Politico, Matheson visited Washington, D.C., last week and met with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and Citizens United President David Bossie.
Both men are engaged in recruiting a collection of candidates to challenge Senate Republican incumbents with the exception of Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, according to The Hill. The ultimate goal is to depose Senate Majority Speaker Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky.
Bannon, who is also the executive chairman of Breitbart News, told Fox News Monday the movement’s overall goal is replace establishment Republicans with anti-establishment candidates. The infusion of new blood is anticipated to tear down congressional gridlock and lead to a streamlining of some senatorial processes.
A Bannon-backed candidate in Alabama, Roy Moore, won against McConnell-backed candidate Luther Strange in September in a special election for the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Politico reported that the victory has increased the “anti-McConnell effort.”
Bannon said Matheson was setting up an exploratory committee into looking at the feasibility of running for the Senate. However, Matheson told the Deseret News that there currently is no committee in the works.
There is no timeline in place for when Matheson may official announce a senate run.
Matheson told Politico that he would not support McConnell as majority speaker if elected. He also referred to the current state of Washington politics as “backwards facing and backwards looking” and lacking vision.
“The one thing that’s uniting people across the spectrum is frustration with the lack of progress in Congress,” Matheson told Politico. “They’re kind of functioning in this status quo universe.”
The 83-year-old Hatch told voters in 2012 that his run for Senate that year would likely be his last.
Since then he has been encouraged by others, including President Donald Trump, to run again. Hatch has indicated he may do so, but has yet to make an official decision.
Hatch has said that his health, as well as that of his wife, may be deciding factor in the end.
“Senator Hatch has not made a final decision regarding whether to continue serving after 2018, but in the end, Utahns will make that determination, not Washington,” Matt Whitlock, Hatch’s spokesman, said in a statement to media Sunday. “Should he decide to run again, he will win.”
Hatch held his seat for seven terms since 1977 and serves as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
While Hatch’s longevity and influence is seen as an advantage for Utah by some, others nonetheless call for him to retire. Some also see his 40-plus years in the Senate as a reason why congressional term limits should be imposed.
In a poll by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinkley Institute of Politics that was published in June, 78 percent of Utahns polled said they didn’t want Hatch to run again.
As to being lumped in with the causes of senatorial gridlock, Whitlock said, Hatch has recently been named the most effective member of the Senate.
“While Washington is stuck in divisive gridlock, Senator Hatch is one of the few people in Washington continuing to deliver results for his constituents,” Whitlock said.
Should Hatch step down and not seek an eighth term, U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, has indicated he may run for Senate. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has also reportedly shown an interest in Hatch’s seat.
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