Forget the 2016 election mess. The 2018 race for U.S. Senate could get very crowded, and supremely interesting before it’s all said and done.
So far, the only candidate who has publicly announced their intention to seek the Senate seat in 2018 is Derek Miller, former chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and current President & CEO of the World Trade Center Utah.
But, he’s likely to get company and lots of it.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, who currently holds the seat, campaigned in 2012 by promising he would not seek another term in Washington. It’s becoming clearer that Hatch is seriously considering reneging on that pledge. Hatch would almost certainly secure himself a place on Utah’s primary ballot thanks to SB54, which allows candidates to gather signatures to bypass the caucus/convention system. His campaign would have the financial means to secure the 28,000 statewide signatures to get on the ballot.
Hatch running for another term would most certainly scare away more than a few Republicans hoping he will retire, which would create an extremely rare open seat for U.S. Senate.
One name bubbling to the top of political conversations in Utah is former Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. There’s quite a bit of chatter that Huntsman, who left the governor’s mansion in 2009 to become Ambassador to China in the first Obama administration, is planning on moving back to Utah from Washington, D. C. to mount his campaign.
But, there’s a twist to Huntsman’s rumored candidacy. If he runs, sources tell UtahPolicy.com he is likely to do it as an independent candidate, instead of a Republican. That makes some sense. Huntsman is the co-chair of the “No Labels” group, which urges politicians to eschew partisan politics to work for the greater good.
If Huntsman runs as an independent, he would immediately be a front-runner in the race. When Huntsman left office in 2009, he had extremely high approval ratings, and his candidacy would attract moderate Republicans, independent voters, and Democrats. That could prove to be a potent electoral combination.
The fact that Huntsman’s brother owns the Salt Lake Tribune wouldn’t hurt his chances either. It always helps a political campaign to have the media in your corner.
One other “big name” that seems to percolate during discussions of who might run for US Senate is former Gov. Mike Leavitt. The former Secretary of Health and Human Services and EPA head has oft been mentioned as a candidate for various offices in Utah. He has been taking a more high-profile role this year, often criticizing Donald Trump’s policy proposals. A 2018 run seems unlikely at this point, but certainly not out of the question.