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Orrin Hatch and the Origins of Mitt Romney’s Senate Bid

Lunch at the Marriott plants seeds for Romney’s political second coming

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to announce his bid for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch's open Senate seat in Utah on Feb. 15. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected to announce his bid for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch's open Senate seat in Utah on Feb. 15. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As Utahns await Mitt Romney’s expected Feb. 15 announcement that he will run for Orrin G. Hatch’s Senate seat, the story of why the former GOP presidential nominee decided to make his political comeback now has begun to emerge.

It all started nearly a year ago over lunch with Hatch at the JW Marriott in downtown Washington, The Boston Globe reported Tuesday.

Hatch, entering the home stretch of his seventh term, knew he wanted to retire. He wanted someone with charisma and political acumen to replace him as Utah’s national ambassador, someone who would be a powerful force in the Senate, like himself, who had racked up four decades of seniority.

When he saw a report last February that Romney had said “all doors are open” regarding a 2018 Senate bid, Hatch’s wheels started turning.

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“As I was thinking about retiring I was thinking, ‘I don’t want some dud to replace me,’” Hatch told The Globe in an interview. “I want somebody who’s capable and could carry on some of the things I’ve worked so hard to do. And Romney fits that bill 100 percent in my opinion.”

Hatch came to the luncheon at the Marriott prepared.

He handed the former Massachusetts governor a memo explaining why he should run to be his replacement.

The Atlantic first reported the existence of such a memo.

Romney would not have Hatch’s seniority. But his “personality, his attractive appearance and ability to speak, and the experiences he’s had” would give Romney immediate clout among his Senate colleagues.

The proposal simmered with Romney for months and did not become a serious consideration until August, some of Romney’s longtime advisers told The Globe.

“I thought it was crazy,” one adviser said, noting that Romney could already go on any Sunday talk show whenever he wanted without being a senator. The man seemed to already have it all — why re-enter politics?

“I’ve been to your house in California — what are you thinking?” the adviser said.

The plan seems to be in motion.

Hatch officially announced his retirement in January after immense public speculation.

“When the president visited Utah last month, he said I was a fighter. I’ve always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington. But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching,” Hatch said in a video statement.

Meanwhile, Romney has teased his Feb. 15 press conference in which he is expected to announce his campaign launch.

“Looking forward to making an announcement on February 15th about the Utah Senate race,” Romney tweeted last Thursday.

His odds to win the election are favorable.

He has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and other powerful senators.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Hatch’s open seat Solidly Republican.

Utah hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since Frank E. Moss, whom Hatch succeeded in 1977.

Hatch has nearly $5 million in cash in his campaign coffers. It remains to be seen how (or if) he’ll use that to aid Romney’s campaign.

“I admire him, I like the guy and I think he’s a very fine fellow,” Hatch said. “I believe he likes me quite a bit, too.”