Hatch looking to preserve his political legacy after he leaves office

Orrin HatchThe man behind recent re-election wins by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch – Dave Hansen – says he doesn’t know if Hatch will run again in 2018.

But if Hatch does, Hansen will be managing his campaign – as he did in 2006 and 2012.

You may remember that Hansen pulled off a real campaign coup by successfully recruiting Hatch supporters to run as state GOP delegates, getting them elected in their March caucuses, and then getting Hatch through a post-Tea Party 2012 state convention.

In the 2010 convention Tea Party delegates kicked former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett out of office.

Hatch nearly 60-percented his GOP opponents in the 2012 convention – a real turnaround for the Hansen delegate effort.

Hatch easily won the June 2012 primary and coasted to re-election (his 7th) that fall.

By this time in the 2012 election cycle, Hansen recalls, Hatch’s re-election campaign was up and running, with 15 full-time staffers working “day and night” finding Hatch supports who would run as delegates about a year away.

Overall, before the 2012 state Republican Convention, the Hatch campaign had spent between $3 million and $4 million, most of it on delegate work.

So far, Hatch has hardly spent any money this year, since Hatch has not formally decided to run for his 8th term or not. (A few days ago Hatch told a national news outlet he was running again, but then his D.C. staff walked it back, saying the senator had not yet made that decision.)

In a related matter, Hansen confirmed that there is now an ongoing effort to set up a non-profit “Hatch Foundation.”

Hansen said he is not personally involved in the effort.

Other sources have told UtahPolicy that the Hatch Foundation has several aims – the main one being funding and organizing a place for Hatch’s papers, from his now-41 years in the U.S. Senate.

But it could go beyond that.

Sources said that talks are underway with Utah Valley University and Brigham Young University officials for some joint effort to set up a Hatch institute of politics – similar to the former-Gov. Mike Leavitt Institute at Southern Utah University and the former-Gov. Olene Walker Institute at Weber State University.

Hatch is a BYU graduate.

The Hatch Foundation would be there should Hatch decide not to run, or if he ran, but lost; or if he won, but decided for whatever reasons not to serve out his full six-year term, and resigned to work for his foundation.

However, rumors have circulated in high Utah political circles that the Hatch Foundation is an effort to entice Hatch to retire gracefully and not seek re-election in 2018. There would be real work for Hatch outside of the U.S. Senate – his life’s career.

Hansen says that’s not the reason – that such a foundation would be essential in preserving not only Hatch’s political legacy – which is considerable (he is the 7th longest serving senator in U.S. history) — but also encouraging the study of politics and the system of American government.

Anyway, back to the possible Hatch campaign.

Hansen says there is no deadline for Hatch to decide.

He says that should Hatch run, he would take both the signature petition route and the caucus/convention route to the June 2018 Republican primary election.

“That way it assures he will be on the primary ballot. And given our history in 2012, to be honest, it would be a lot cheaper.”

It would cost around $160,000 to have volunteers and paid staff to collect the 28,000 signatures of registered Republicans required under SB54 to get a statewide candidate on the primary ballot.

Hansen said he has not been behind the recent efforts of pro-Hatch op-ed opinion pieces in The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News.

Those are folks who have called up the senator’s staffs (in Utah and D.C.) asking what they can do for the senator, said Hansen.

“The senator has a lot of support, both in Utah and in Washington,” said Hansen.

And that certainly is the case among some groups – many of them Utah business and political leaders.

But Hatch’s support among rank-and-file Utahns, even among Republicans, is not what it has been in the past.

A Tribune poll in January finds that nearly 80 percent of Utahns don’t want Hatch to run again.

And if the primary match-up were between former Utah GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Hatch, Hatch would get only 21 percent of the Republican vote today compared to Huntsman’s 62 percent.

Now, since then Huntsman has agreed to become President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Russia – while keeping, Huntsman says, his options open to running for the Senate in 2018. But that window is pretty tight for Huntsman.

Still, those are bad poll numbers for Hatch, whether Huntsman runs in 2018 or not.

But if there is a man who can help get Hatch (who is 82 now, would be 84 at his election and 90 if he serves out his next full term) over the finish line, it would be Hansen.

He’s known and worked to re-elect Hatch for years, starting as a Hatch volunteer in the senator’s first race in 1976, Hatch’s upset win over then-incumbent Democrat Frank Moss.