As Utah politicos wait with bated breath for Sen. Orrin Hatch to announce – now perhaps as late as mid-January – whether he will run for an unprecedented 8th term next year, a new UtahPolicy.com poll finds that Hatch’s approval numbers are up just ever so slightly.
The new Dan Jones & Associates survey finds that junior U.S. Sen. Mike Lee’s numbers are about the same as in recent months – with a bare majority approving of the job Lee is doing in Congress.
Recently Hatch’s approval rating was underwater – more Utahns disapproved of the job he was doing as approved.
But the 83-year-old has serviced.
- 48 percent of Utahns approve of the job Hatch is doing.
- 48 percent disapprove.
- And 5 percent don’t know.
- 53 percent approve of Lee’s job performance.
- 34 percent disapprove.
- And 12 percent don’t know.
The insider opinions about a Hatch rerun are waffling.
While earlier this year UtahPolicy was told by a variety of sources that Hatch was going to retire the end of 2018 and return to Utah to oversee his new “Hatch Foundation,” located at one of the state’s top universities.
But the longer Hatch holds out – and keeps saying he’s planning on running unless something happens to dissuade him -- the more folks are saying Hatch may just try for another re-election.
In his 2012 re-election, Hatch promised it would be his last, saying he would retire in 2018.
While Hatch’s numbers are up, they are up just slightly.
And a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll shows that more than three-fourths of Utahns don’t want Hatch to run again.
The real player now in this drama is former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who UtahPolicy is told would run for Hatch’s seat if Hatch retired.
It is unclear if Romney would challenge Hatch. Although under current SB54 candidate signature gathering rules a candidate can start gathering the 28,000 required signatures of party voters on Jan. 1.
And candidates must file by mid-March.
So time is ticking on any Romney Senate run.
Romney has the money, name i.d. and proven voter approval to beat Hatch in a contested primary.
Few other Utah Republicans could do so, even if they decided to challenge Hatch in 2018.
Hatch says he’s talked to Romney, and Romney would never challenge him.
Here are some of the new Hatch and Lee approval ratings demographics:
From a poll conducted several months ago, Hatch is doing slightly better among Republicans and those who self-identified as “very conservative” politically.
68 percent of Utah Republicans see Hatch in a favorable light, while 26 disapprove of him.
Among the “very conservatives,” Hatch is liked by 58 percent, compared to 37 percent who disapprove of him.
Still, a quarter of all Republicans don’t like Hatch; as well as one-third of “very conservative” Utahns.
Those are bad disapproval ratings for a 40-year incumbent who has never really been challenged in his seven previous re-elections.
Two Democrats, one Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, have already announced they are running next year, regardless of what Hatch or Romney do.
Jenny Wilson is the daughter of former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, who lost to Hatch way back in 1982 in Hatch’s first re-election.
Other poll numbers:
Democrats and independents don’t have much use for Hatch; Democrats don’t like him 77-18 percent, independents 63-31 percent.
Democrats don’t like Lee, 78-12 percent. (Lee is considered right of Hatch.) And independents don’t like Lee, 49-36 percent.
The “very conservative,” or Tea Party, branch of the Utah GOP unseated the late Sen. Bob Bennett in 2010 in the state convention.
Through good campaign work and around $2 million, Hatch’s campaign manager, Dave Hansen, got Hatch through the 2012 state GOP convention. But Hatch didn’t eliminate all competitors; he handily beat a former state GOP senator in the primary.
If Hatch does run in 2018, undoubtedly he will gather the 28,000 required signatures to make the primary – thus not needing the GOP delegate vote this time around.
Hatch has said this year that if he runs again, part of that decision will be how much his Mormon Church needs him in the Senate to protect religious liberties.
But a third of “very active” Mormons don’t see it that way:
33 percent of “very active” Mormons disapprove of Hatch, while 63 percent approve of the job he’s doing.
Jones polled 600 Utahns from Nov. 16-21. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.