NBC News: Utah’s Orrin Hatch Could Face Democratic Challenger

by Alex Seitz-Wald, NBC

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.

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.

Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake County Council Member, Announces Exploratory Bid for U.S. Senate

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Today, Salt Lake County Council Member Jenny Wilson filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission, launching an exploratory committee (Wilson for Senate Exploratory Committee) for the 2018 U.S. Senate race.

"As a fifth generation Utahn working here in the state, I know that the people of Utah want Congress to get back to the days of commonsense, bipartisan problem solving. Utahns are hungry for a change. They want something different — different than Hatch and different than business as usual in DC. They want a Senator who will listen to them and make sure their voice is heard loud and clear in Washington. 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.

Because a U.S. Senate race is a major undertaking, I will use the coming months to gauge support for my candidacy. Already, I have been overwhelmed by the encouragement I have received in every corner of Utah, and I know that the race will be competitive if I run. While I have not yet made a decision, one thing is certain: this Senate seat belongs to the people of Utah -- and they alone should decide who occupies it."

Wilson launched a website, www.wilsonforsenate.com, where she has begun accepting contributions.

In addition to serving in her second six-year term on the Salt Lake County Council (2005-2010 & 2015-present), Wilson spent much of the 1990s working for Congress, serving as Communication Director and then as Chief of Staff to former Rep. Bill Orton (D-UT). Wilson is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Utah Association of Counties where she has served as a leader in collaborating with both urban and rural elected officials throughout the state to solve problems such as public lands protection and management, as well as addressing the need for additional funding for mental health and substance abuse.

The U.S. Senate seat is currently occupied by Orrin Hatch, who has been in Washington for more than 40 years and who may or may not seek re-election. He recently faced criticism after suggesting that he might hand over the seat to Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, Jr., a move that Wilson called out as "boys' club elitism."


Potential U.S. Senate Candidate Jenny Wilson Responds To Hatch-Romney-Huntsman Boys' Club Elitism


SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Today, Salt Lake County Council Member and potential Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jenny Wilson issued a statement regarding the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Orrin Hatch:
"As a 5th generation Utahn and elected official working in state and on the ground, the back and forth between the Hatches, Romneys, and Huntsmans regarding who is entitled to a seat in the U.S. Senate is offensive," Wilson said. "The Senate seat is not a family heirloom to be passed along from one elite family to another; it belongs to the people of Utah. Our state deserves an open campaign where Utahns of all walks of life can participate, not a coronation by the wealthy and privileged."