Sources: Hatch considering retiring in 2018; Romney seriously interested in replacing him has been told by various sources that U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is leaning against running for re-election in 2018, and will likely retire. The second part of the rumor is that Mitt Romney is very likely to seek Hatch’s seat.

Of course, it can always be the case that Hatch could change his mind and seek re-election, UtahPolicy is told.

He clearly is waiting out the field – by not announcing his intentions, by not actually starting a campaign – he is keeping other legitimate GOP candidates from announcing, or starting a campaign. Some prospective candidates are becoming impatient and a little irritated that Hatch hasn’t announced his plans.

UtahPolicy is hearing that Hatch will announce in the fall, perhaps as early as August, that he intends to retire and devote his efforts to the Hatch Foundation – which has discussed previously.

Hatch is now 83. He would be 84 during his 2018 re-election run, and be 90 if he served out another full six-year term.

Hatch is already the longest serving Republican senator in U.S. history, having won his first election in 1976 as a then-underdog candidate.

Hatch has held just about every important post in the Senate over the years, currently serving as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and Senate pro tempore – meaning he is the fourth in line for the U.S. presidency in cases of death or resignations.

UtahPolicy has also been told that former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is serious about running for Hatch’s seat in 2018.

Romney and Hatch are close, and earlier this year Hatch told the media that he would consider not running again if someone “outstanding” were to seek his seat.

Asked who could be such an “outstanding” candidate, Hatch mentioned Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and the man who led the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics out of scandal and into a very successful Games.

Romney attended BYU, is of well-known Mormon stock, and has lived at various times in Utah.

Romney, 70, currently lives in Salt Lake County and is a Utah resident.

Historically, 70 would be a bit old to start a career in the U.S. Senate.

But Romney is clearly in good health – does the guy ever age?

And considering he was the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and former governor of a major U.S. state, if he wins he could enter the Senate with respect and influence well beyond a typical freshman legislator from a small Western state.

In addition, should Romney pledge to serve just two, six-year terms, he would retire at 82, just a year younger than Hatch is now.

Romney is also wealthy, becoming a multi-millionaire managing a successful private equity firm. He could live comfortably both in Washington, D.C., and in Utah without counting on his Senate salary alone.

Plus, Utah now has a dual-path for candidates to get on a party’s primary ballot.

Romney could take the voter signature path and not have to kowtow to conservative Utah Republican state delegates – who can be a real problem for mainstream candidates – as Hatch and other Republican candidates/officeholders have found over recent years.

Of course, Hatch could decide to run for re-election. And Romney could decide not to run, either.

But time is ticking away, in any case. Six years ago Hatch was already up and running an aggressive campaign, recruiting supporting delegates and on his way to a $6 million re-election effort.