Three of every four Utahns say Sen. Orrin Hatch should not seek an eighth term, while a plurality would like Mitt Romney to take his place in the Senate, a new poll shows.
“Voters are saying, ‘Please don’t run again.’ Many have fond memories of Senator Hatch, but they feel the time has come for him to step aside,” said pollster Dan Jones, who conducted the survey for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics.
The survey shows that 75 percent of voters said Hatch — the 83-year-old Republican who was first elected 41 years ago — should retire, including 56 percent who said he “definitely should not” run again.
The poll had more bad news for Hatch. It asked voters whom they would vote for if the Senate race were held today, and Hatch finished in a distant third-place tie.
Atop that list was former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, attracting 44 percent support; Democratic candidate Jenny Wilson had 15 percent; and Hatch and Rep. Mia Love — who has not talked about running for the Senate — tied at 8 percent each.
Other Republicans mentioned as possible candidates trailed further behind, including Rep. Chris Stewart, 5 percent; Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson, 3 percent; Utah Valley University President Matt Holland, 2 percent; and state Sen. Brian Shiozawa, 1 percent.
Among just Republicans who responded to the poll, 57 percent said they would vote for Romney, 13 percent for Hatch, 8 percent for Love and 6 percent for Stewart.
Dave Hansen, political adviser to Hatch and his former campaign manager, said the poll findings “probably don’t mean a heck of a lot to his decision” about whether to run.
“He has said he will make a decision based on his health, his wife’s health and whether he feels like he can make a difference for the state of Utah,” Hansen said.
Hatch has no set time frame to make that decision, said Hansen. “Right now he is concentrating on his work in the Senate, specifically with tax reform.”
Hansen added, “If he decides to run and is the [GOP] nominee, people will vote for him. He will win.”
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank agrees, to a point. “If he gets the nomination, he will win the election absolutely. But the big task is getting the nomination. Is there enough discontent among Republicans that people will step up and run against him?”
The poll and backroom discussions among Republicans show, said Burbank, that “people really don’t want Hatch to run again. He doesn’t seem to fit the mood of the times. He’s been in Washington a long time. And, of course, a lot of Republicans think it would be nice to run, but they don’t want to run against Hatch.”
Hatch has a huge campaign account — $4.7 million in cash on hand — that gives him an advantage if he chooses to run and could scare off competition. His latest quarterly disclosure form shows he raised $945,000 — a strong hint that he could run — and he spent $325,000.
The poll shows Romney could defeat Hatch. Romney has not said whether he is considering such a move, and he did not respond to a request for comments for this story.
But Kem Gardner, a prominent developer and friend of Romney, said last month that the former Massachusetts governor would be interested in running for the Senate — if Hatch chooses not to seek re-election.
Also, Hatch, in an interview with The Nation earlier this year, said he might be willing to step aside if Romney would run.
Burbank notes that many Republicans talked about challenging Sen. Mike Lee last year, but no serious challengers actually emerged, raising the question whether the scenario could repeat next year if Hatch seeks re-election.
The senator did face a serious in-party challenge the last time he ran by former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, but Hatch easily won the GOP primary.
Some of the people who participated in the poll had expressed strong feelings about Hatch’s long service — which he started, ironically, by arguing that then three-term Sen. Frank E. Moss had been in office too long.
“He said last time that this would be his final term. I think he should keep his promise,” said Terry Watson, a Republican who lives in Toquerville. “I think a lot of the problems we have with the Congress is they are there forever and do nothing. I don’t think they even listen to the people. They are there for their own ambition.”
Samuel Stokes of Salt Lake City was a Republican until last year’s election, but switched to become a Libertarian. “I was born in 1986, 10 years after [Hatch] was elected. He’s been in there longer than the internet has existed — just way too long…. If he runs again, I’ll vote for a Democrat, or anyone else but him.”
Sharla Mindrum is a Democrat living in North Salt Lake. “Eight terms is far too many. He’s been in there so long, he’s not in touch with the people outside Washington. I don’t think he listens to his constituents, and I think he’s going to die in office” and refuse to leave otherwise.
But Sonja Mosher, a Republican living in Hyrum, likes the fact that Hatch has served for so long. “He’s done a lot of good. You don’t know everything when you’re first elected, which [President Donald] Trump is showing…. You have to learn things, and Hatch has.”
The new poll interviewed 605 registered voters between Oct. 10 and 13. Its margin of error is 3.98 percentage points, plus or minus.