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Utah's Orrin Hatch Could Face Democratic Challenger

by Alex Seitz-Wald /
Image: Senator Hatch questions witnesses during testimony at the Senate Finance Committee in Washington
Utah's Orrin Hatch is the longest-serving Republican Senator. GARY CAMERON / Reuters

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The longest serving Republican Senator in history, Utah’s Orrin Hatch, will likely a face a serious Democratic challenger if he decides to run for reelection.

Salt Lake County Council Member Jenny Wilson filed paperwork Wednesday to create an exploratory committee and launched a campaign website ahead of a potential challenge to Hatch, a source close to Wilson told NBC News.

“I am confident that based on my record, my Utah roots and my vision for new leadership, I can be the Senator that Utahns deserve,” she will say in a statement provided to NBC that will be released shortly.

Image: Salt Lake County Council member Jenny Wilson
Salt Lake County Council member Jenny Wilson@votejennywilson / Facebook

Hatch, 83, promised when he last ran for reelection that he would not seek an eighth term in 2018. But he seems poised to reverse himself even as, according to the Atlantic, local Republicans quietly try to push him aside.

"I'm planning on (running) right now," he told CNN in March.

A late January Salt Lake Tribune poll found 78% of Utahns want Hatch to retire. Just 5% said he should “definitely” run again, while 58 percent said he should not.

Wilson — whose father, former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson, gave Hatch his last major challenge in 1982 — was recently named to a Democratic National Committee advisory panel.

Utah is one of the reddest states in the country and hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since the Clinton administration. But Democrats are hoping dissatisfaction with Hatch and the state's anti-Donald Trump bent (an independent anti-Trump presidential candidate won over 20 percent of the vote in November) could make the race competitive.

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will head there later this week as part of their ongoing cross-country Democratic unity tour.

Hatch’s weak poll numbers have prompted speculation that a big-name Republican might swoop in to try to succeed him, such as former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney or one of his sons.

In a fundraising email to be sent to supporters announcing her exploratory committee, Wilson wrote, “a Senate seat is not a family heirloom to be passed along from one elite family to another."

Wilson, a fifth generation Utahn, was chief of staff to former Utah Rep. Bill Orton, a moderate Democrat in whose mold Wilson fashions herself.

Romney or Huntsman would likely be more a formidable candidate than Hatch, and Wilson said she would make a final decision on the race “in the coming weeks and months.”

Democrats Jim Matheson, a former congressman, and Salt Lake Mayor Ben McAdams have also been floated as potential candidates.

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