Utah Republicans are getting extremely frustrated with Orrin Hatch’s indecisiveness

Sen. Orrin Hatch

Utah Republicans are buzzing about a rumored candidate for next year’s U.S. Senate race who would be very intriguing, but it’s probably nothing more than a political parlor game that’s gotten a little out of hand.

Sources tell UtahPolicy.com that Gov. Gary Herbert has suggested that he might challenge for the Senate seat currently occupied by Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2018. While this would be a shocking development for sure, it’s likely nothing more than idle speculation by the governor. 

One prominent Republican says Herbert’s talk about running in 2018 is born merely from his frustration over the Orrin Hatch/Mitt Romney soap opera, and Hatch’s indecisiveness about his political future. The “will he or won’t he” speculation is keeping other candidates from jumping into the race, which has prompted Herbert to muse out loud that he might run.

But don’t get too excited. We’re told there are just two chances that Herbert will pull the trigger and get into the race – slim and none.

While Herbert’s dalliance with running for Senate may be the stuff of political fantasy, his entrance into the race might present a real threat to Hatch’s political future. 

Let’s do a little thought experiment to game out why.

If he were to run, Herbert would almost assuredly get in a primary election against Hatch. He would have to take the signature route, which is the same thing he did last year in his re-election bid. There’s almost no way that Herbert doesn’t get the 28,000 statewide signatures he would need to get on the primary ballot.

A possible GOP primary between Herbert and Hatch would be a political clash of the Titans, and Herbert would have more than a fighting chance against Hatch if that were to come about. Herbert’s approval ratings are higher than Hatch’s, and polls show that most Utahns don’t want Hatch to run for another term.  Republican primary voters may not be willing to oust Hatch for a lesser candidate, but if it were Herbert, all bets are off. Plus, Hatch wouldn’t have a name ID advantage over Herbert.

It would also be a free race for Herbert. He’s not running for Governor again in 2020, and he wouldn’t lose his place in the Governor’s mansion if he lost.

Because of the less than stellar poll numbers for Hatch, there are some other Republicans are considering trying to go the signature route to get on the ballot, then taking their chances against Hatch in a primary election. Given the mood of the electorate, risking a run against Hatch could pay off big time. It’s not an easy thing to take on a powerful Senator who has been in Washington for decades, but the potential reward may outweigh the risks.

If Hatch does run again, he likely won’t have a clear path to the GOP nomination. It’s almost inconceivable that Republican delegates will hand him the nomination at their convention in April, which means a primary election is likely next summer.

Now, if Hatch faces more than one primary opponent in 2018, they might split the vote enough for him to win the nomination with less than 50%, but that’s the kind of triangulation that gives campaigns nightmares. 

Whatever happens, it all gets underway on January 2nd. That’s the first day candidates can declare their intention to gather signatures in next year’s election. If Hatch hasn’t decided on his political future before then, some candidates may not be willing to wait for him any longer.