Orrin Hatch plays the waiting game

So, Orrin Hatch has been making the rounds saying he is going to run for an 8th term next year – maybe.

He’s talking about how important he is for Utah and the nation, with his key chairmanship in the Senate. But he’s also leaving himself plenty of wriggle room to get out of the race. He also continues to say nice things about Mitt Romney, suggesting Romney would be a terrific replacement in the event he doesn’t run.

None of that is surprising or even really new. But there is some meaningful news. Hatch is saying he won’t make a final decision about running for several months. He told TV reporters that the election is nearly two years away and he’s in no hurry.

Hatch’s strategy may be to freeze the field and force any number of hopefuls to wait until it’s too late to mount a successful campaign. In reality, a Senate campaign needs to get going almost immediately unless you’re Orrin Hatch, Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman. They have plenty of money and fame to wait until the last minute. Other candidates can’t afford to wait.

Given Hatch’s indecision, some potential young challengers, like Derek Miller, former chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, may be forced to get into the race without regard to what Hatch does. But Hatch’s campaign strategists may be thinking it will be tough for them to raise significant money and attract support from influential leaders when everyone is waiting for the big shoe (Hatch or Romney) to drop.

In the last Hatch election cycle, he was off and running hard by now, spending $4 million to organize voting precincts, recruit delegates, and stack caucus meetings. This cycle, he (or Romney) can wait until the end of the year and then gather signatures to get on the ballot. The fight will be the primary election, not the state convention. 

I have enormous respect for Hatch and Romney. Utah is represented by one of the most powerful senators in the country. He is going to be in the middle of the health care fight, tax reform, and eventually entitlement reform. He’s in a position to get the federal budget under control.

Romney would be an influential replacement, able to hit the ground running. I prefer either of these guys over an ideological conservative who is more interested in far-right orthodoxy than solving problems and getting things done.

But I wish Hatch would make a decision and let everyone know. I understand it’s a tough decision and a lot can happen over the next several months. Hatch must make a final decision before the end of the year to run an effective campaign.

In the meantime, while Hatch’s posture is that he’s probably going to run, but maybe not, he will continue an aggressive PR push, touting his clout and importance. He needs to do that because he’s not in great political shape as he approaches the race. His approval ratings, naked re-elect, and head-to-head matchups are not good for a seven-term senator. The attitude among many Utahns, even long-time Hatch supporters, seems to be that he’s done a terrific job for Utah – but it’s time to retire.

So it will be very interesting to see what happens if a strong candidate or two announce right away and polls show them picking up support against Hatch. 

Will that force Hatch to get into the race earlier than he wants to? Or will it signal that’s it’s time to retire? And is Romney waiting in the wings?

The gentleman politician. Miles “Cap” Ferry, true to his nickname, wore a lot of hats in his long and productive life. But what impressed me most was that in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, he was always a true gentleman – a nice guy. Some people think you have to be tough and hard-nosed to be successful in politics. Cap proved them wrong. He was all about solving problems and helping other people succeed.

Cap passed away March 31 at age 84, after a short illness. The two-hour wait in the viewing line Sunday night in Brigham City reflected the many lives he touched. Cap and his remarkable wife, Sue, had an impact in multiple arenas of life. 

Plenty of political types and prominent Utahns came to pay their respects. Cap served in the Legislature for 20 years, six of them as Senate president. And hundreds of people attended from the agriculture community. Cap served as state agriculture commissioner for eight years, was a successful farmer and rancher, and a leader in the Farm Bureau Federation.  And then there were his numerous neighbors and everyday friends, both from Box Elder County and Salt Lake City. And most important was his large family, immediate and extended. 

A life well lived.