Utah Senator Orrin Hatch announced Tuesday in a video released by his office that he would not seek reelection next year, clearing the way for a possible Senate bid by Mitt Romney.
“After much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term,” Hatch said, adding, “I may be leaving the Senate, but the next chapter in my public service is just beginning.”
The announcement comes after months of speculation about Hatch’s plans, and intense backstage political jockeying around his Senate seat.
The 83-year-old incumbent, who is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, had promised Utah voters in 2012 that this would be his final term. But after his party took control of the Senate and then the White House, he began publicly walking back that pledge. Hatch’s defenders argued that his experience and savvy were needed now more than ever—but not everyone was sold.
Behind the scenes, high-powered Republicans in Utah—worried about Hatch’s abysmal poll numbers and eager to usher in an establishment-friendly successor—began waging a concerted campaign to convince the incumbent to retire. Wealthy donors raised money for a library or institute dedicated to his legacy, and efforts were made to assure him that his seat would remain in good hands. The question of who would take the baton from him was especially important for Hatch—and he had an ideal candidate in mind.