In April 2010, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch's popularity struck bottom. A Mason-Dixon poll taken at the time showed that only 35 percent of respondents (from all parties) wanted to return him to Washington, DC for a seventh term in 2012. Worse yet, only 19 percent of Republican delegates wanted him back. Since the delegates determine the party nominee, this means that had Hatch run this year, he would have shared Bob Bennett's fate.
Fast-forward to November 2010. A new Mason-Dixon poll shows some slow improvement. The new poll of 625 registered Utah voters taken October 25-27 shows that 40 percent want to re-elect Hatch, while 48 percent say No and 12 percent are undecided.
The main reason is that Hatch, stunned by Bennett's fate, has embarked upon an ambitious program to re-establish his conservative credentials. He took a leadership role in openly opposing the passage of Obamacare. He's also spoken out vociferously against the proposed cap-and-trade Ponzi scheme that would create a new batch of predatory speculators to milk a "carbon" bubble. And Hatch has toughened up on immigration; on September 30th, 2010, he introduced a bill entitled "Strengthening Our Commitment to Legal Immigration and America’s Security Act". You can read the text of his accompanying floor speech HERE.
Orrin Hatch even shook up his staff. On November 4th, he announced that he hired a new chief of staff, Michael Kennedy, a former Washington lobbyist who has recently been heading up Utah State University’s government relations. Jace Johnson, Hatch’s current chief of staff, is leaving to take a job as vice president for global government affairs for Adobe Systems, based in San Jose, California. Kennedy is also a former intern of Bob Bennett.
But is it too little, too late? Prospective challengers are already waiting in the wings. It's an open secret that Third District Congressman Jason Chaffetz wants to take a whack at Hatch in 2012. Likewise, former U.S. Senate candidate Cherilyn Eagar has speculated about an encore run. But even if he is re-nominated, Hatch could face a serious challenge from the left, as Second District Congressman Jim Matheson is thinking about running. Utah is expected to pick up a fourth House seat from re-apportionment next year, and Matheson might decide a challenge of Hatch might offer more favorable prospects for continuation of his own Congressional career.
One issue the Salt Lake Tribune did not explore is the combination of age and incumbency, which together could hinder Hatch's re-election efforts. In 2012, Hatch will turn 78 years old and will enter his 36th year in the Senate. Individually, these would be minor details; at 78, Hatch is in better shape than most people his age and even many people half his age because he's a devout Mormon who lives the Word of Wisdom. But the two issues together could prove a double whammy due to the anti-incumbent mood still percolating. Hatch really ought to consider cashing his chips in and let the next generation fight over his succession. I would not like to see him publicly repudiated after the manner of Bob Bennett; Hatch has served the state to the best of his ability, even if he's been too solicitous of illegal immigrants and big government at times.
But Hatch shows no signs of standing down. He's even got a campaign website up and running, although it's little more than a placeholder blog at this point.