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Hatch is saving his best for last

Published November 6, 2012 8:22 pm

After spending $12M, he's banking on his seniority to help right the nation's fiscal ship.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sen. Orrin Hatch showed Tuesday that not all 78-year-olds want to retire.

He claimed victory with 65 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns, after spending a record $12 million — first to fight off challenges from the Republican right, followed by a rematch with Democrat Scott Howell, whom he defeated 12 years ago.

Hatch, who has served in the Senate for 36 years, promised that his seventh term will be his last.

"It just puts that much more pressure on me because it'll be the last six years that I'm going to put in the Senate," he said. "I want them to be the best years I can possibly put in so that my state benefits greatly from them, and the country."

Hatch argued in his campaign that his seniority would allow him to become chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee if Republicans could seize control of the Senate, a possibility that evaporated with Tuesday's election returns.

But even with the GOP failing to win the Senate, Hatch said, he would still be the Republican leader on that panel with plenty on the agenda.

"We are definitely going to have to do tax reform," he said. "I still want to push a constitutional balanced-budget amendment. We are going to have to find some way of stabilizing entitlements."

Howell, a former state senator, said his rival's claim that he would be the finance chairman "was the most preposterous thing I could ever imagine, but it was brilliant marketing by Orrin's team. We found a lot of senior voters who believed it."

The underdog Democrat said heavy spending by Hatch was a key to his win, and something others could not match.

"It shows what money can buy," he said.

For his part, Hatch attributed his victory to "hard work."

The toughest part was getting through the state GOP convention against nine other Republicans, as the GOP right wing targeted him after it had successfully ousted three-term Sen. Bob Bennett two years earlier.

"The key was getting through the convention," Hatch said. "I started that two years before" to elect supporters as GOP delegates.

Howell said that, despite apparently losing to Hatch again, he takes pride in trying to create "a healthy two-party system" to give voters choices.

Hatch becomes the senior Republican senator in the Senate and third most-senior senator overall.

ldavidson@sltrib.com