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Salt Lake Democrat Announces Challenge to Orrin Hatch

Jenny Wilson faces uphill battle for solidly Republican Senate seat

Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch has not made a final decision about running for re-election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch has not made a final decision about running for re-election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch has yet to make a final decision about whether he is running for re-election, but the Utah Republican now has another Democratic challenger.

Salt Lake County council member Jenny Wilson announced Monday that she is taking on Hatch, who would be running for his eighth Senate term. But Wilson’s bid would be an uphill battle in the deeply Republican Beehive State. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Solidly Republican.

“I look forward to meeting Utahns in all 29 counties and doing something Orrin Hatch has not done in a long time: listening to the concerns of Utahns and making sure their voices are heard loud and clear,” Wilson said in a statement announcing her campaign.

The Democrat said she has raised nearly $140,000 while exploring a Senate bid. Hatch, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, raised just over $1 million during the second quarter ending June 30, finishing with more than $4 million in cash on hand, according to Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock.

Utah strategists have said a Hatch challenger would need to raise between $3 million and $5 million to take on the most senior GOP senator. Democrats have not won a Senate election in the state since 1970.

While Hatch sent some signals that he is running for re-election, he has not made a final decision, keeping Utah Republicans in suspense.

“With all the problems Utahns sent him here to solve, the 2018 election cycle has not been top of mind. While [Hatch] intends to run, he has not yet reached a final decision and hopes to by the end of the year,” Whitlock said in a statement. “But should the Senator decide to run, he will win.”

Hatch previously cited former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, as a preferred successor, but also said Romney had told him he would not challenge the longtime senator for the seat.

Wilson said in an April interview that she was aware of how much money would be necessary for a run, citing her previous experience as a congressional staffer and chief of staff for former Utah Democratic Rep. Bill Orton.

“Having been a chief of staff in Washington, D.C. and run races … it’s not news to me that this is a multimillion dollar effort and will require a lot of focus and full attention and a lot of organized outreach,” Wilson told Roll Call in an April 13 interview.

Hatch said during his 2012 campaign that his seventh term would be his last. But he has since hinted that he might run again, since he could have significant sway over top policy priorities with a GOP-controlled White House and Congress.

Wilson called Hatch a “decent man,” but suggested in a statement that he has been in the nation’s capital for too long.

“Utahns want a Senator who works for them, who listens to them and who gets things done,” she said. “But after 40 years of Orrin Hatch, Washington is broken. Orrin Hatch is a decent man, but he’s part of the problem in Washington and he has forgotten who sent him there.”

As an at-large member of the Salt Lake County Council, Wilson represents one-third of the state’s population, which she highlighted in the April interview. She is also the daughter of Ted Wilson, a former Salt Lake City mayor.

Discussing her potential run, Wilson said the unique political environment where voters are clamoring for change could swing in her favor.

“I think it’s an unusual political year and for that reason it is a more viable possibility for a Democrat,” Wilson said in the April interview.

Wilson is also a member of the Democratic National Committee’s transition team, which focuses on how the party should approach GOP-leaning states. DNC Chairman Tom Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., visited the Beehive State as part of their unity tour in April.

One other Democratic candidate has also announced that they are challenging Hatch: Danny Drew, the director of adult education for the Duchesne County School District. Adjunct professor James Singer, who is Native American, had also launched a bid but recently ended his campaign and backed Wilson.

Correction 2:18 p.m. | An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Singer was still a candidate.

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