Washington • One of Sen. Orrin Hatch's main arguments for re-election evaporated Tuesday when Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe announced she plans to retire.
Hatch and his supporters have repeatedly warned Utah conservatives that if he loses his seat, Snowe, a moderate, would be the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees taxes, Social Security and Medicare.
Dan Liljenquist, one of Hatch's GOP rivals, said Snowe's retirement "absolutely" shatters that concern.
"I think Olympia Snowe recognizes we need a new generation of leaders in this country," he said. "The United States Senate is and always has been larger than one person."
Liljenquist noted that with Snowe's retirement, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo would be next in line in the Finance Committee if Hatch is ousted. Crapo is one of the Senate's most conservative members, according to the recent National Journal ratings.
Hatch's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said the warnings about Snowe have only been "a minor argument." He downplayed any impact her retirement may have in Utah.
"Does it affect our race? No, not really," he said. "But you always hate to see a Republican senator retiring. That's too bad she is leaving."
He said Republicans should support Hatch at the state convention because he has served the state well during the past 36 years and he has a chance to chair the Finance Committee if Republicans take control of the Senate.
Hatch, Utah's longest-serving senator, has two Republican challengers Liljenquist and Provo Rep. Chris Herrod who question his conservative credentials. Unless one of the three wins 60 percent of the delegate vote in April's state GOP Convention, two will emerge to compete in a primary.
Snowe is a three-term senator and one of the few willing to cross party lines on contentious issues. She cited the high level of partisanship in Washington as the reason she is ending her re-election bid.
"Olympia has always been a fighter for her state," Hatch said. "Resolute â¦ and committed to her beliefs, her presence in the Senate will be missed."