After months of open speculation, the longest-serving Republican in U.S. Senate history has finally pulled the trigger on his 2018 plans.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday that he will not be seeking re-election this year, and will instead retire after a decades-long career in Congress.
Hatch announced his decision via Twitter.
“Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching,” he explained, having gone into detail about his life before politics and what he’s done as a lawmaker.
“That’s why after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term,” he said.
Hatch leaves behind a storied career as Utah’s senator, having served for over 40 years. Most recently, he played a major role in the successful passage of historic U.S. tax reform.
“I’m deeply grateful for the privilege you’ve given me to serve as your senator these last four decades,” he went on. “I may be leaving the Senate, but my next chapter in public service is just beginning.”
The announcement of his retirement certainly does open a new chapter — for another well-known Republican politician.
Hatch’s decision to retire clears the way for Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee, to take his place.
Romney, the first Mormon to ever be nominated for president on a major party ticket, is adored in Utah, a bastion for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Republican stronghold.
Despite losing nationally in 2012, Romney won the Beehive State with almost 73 percent of the vote, nearly tripling then-President Barack Obama’s 25 percent.
In fact, it was reported in early 2017 that Hatch was in talks with Romney about the former Massachusetts governor replacing him should he retire from office.
To the vehement denial of Hatch staffers at the time, The Atlantic reported that the senior senator from Utah had discussed this possibility with Romney. One man familiar with the talks described it as a “done deal” between the two camps.
If Romney chooses to run for the seat, it’s likely that he will win handily.
A poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune showed Romney besting his likeliest general election opponent by wide margins, taking in 64 percent of the vote to Democrat Jenny Wilson’s 26 percent.
Romney, however, is due to face headwinds during a primary battle. One of his biggest obstacles — the White House.
The Massachusetts Republican was an early and harsh critic of then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Since Trump’s victory, Romney has gone on to tell close confidants that he is worried about the type of leadership in the Oval Office.
A Sen. Romney could possibly mean a face for the “never Trump” movement within conservative circles — something Trump wants to avoid to keep his influence within the GOP intact.
Because of this, Trump had lobbied Hatch heavily to run for re-election.
“We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come,” Trump said at a December rally in Utah — with Hatch standing close by his side. The public nudge was the latest in months of pressure to make him keep his seat.
Despite efforts by the administration, the 83-year-old Republican, who has served seven terms in the Senate, ultimately decided it was time to hang up his hat.
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