TAMPA, Fla. — Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) conceded in an interview this morning that Rep. Todd Akin's controversial remarks have endangered GOP prospects in the Missouri Senate race, along with the party's chances of winning control of the Senate this fall.
“We’re going to take back the Senate, I believe, but it’s going to be very close,” Hatch said this morning. “It could go either way. I have to acknowledge that. The Akin race has hurt us to a degree.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Roll Call just steps away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Hatch said Akin could still defeat Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was widely viewed as the most vulnerable Democratic Senator seeking re-election this cycle until recently. But he said that the Missouri Congressman now faces an uphill climb. Akin's remarks on "legitimate rape" jeopardized the GOP's chances of picking up the seat, prompting top Republicans — including Hatch — to call on Akin to drop out of the race.
"I was one to call for him to withdraw because in the interest of the party — the interest of the country — that's a race that could be won," said Hatch, who suggested it might be time to move on from the Akin saga. "I'm a person who accepts apologies if they're sincere. I think most people feel that way. He apologized, said it was a stupid set of remarks."
Later, Hatch reiterated his disapproval of Akin's comments and his aides went further, pointing to the Senator's call for Akin to drop out of the race. The careful explanations are a sign that Akin's comments remain a politically charged topic, looming large over the Senate landscape.
Back on Capitol Hill, Hatch praised his longtime friend, Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), who lost his Republican primary in May. Hatch beat back his own primary challenge earlier this year and is now on track for a seventh term. Hatch described Lugar’s willingness to go to bat for him on legislative battles over their 36 years together in the Senate.
“We’re going to miss Dick Lugar, but I have to say I’m very impressed with our candidate there in Indiana,” Hatch said of state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who is running against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) for the open seat.
In his own race, Hatch vastly outraised his conservative opponent and had a superior campaign organization, but he still appeared vulnerable heading into the final weeks before the April state party convention.
However, Hatch said he was confident he would outperform expectations, and he indeed came up just short of the 60 percent delegate vote threshold that could have secured the nomination for him. He won the GOP primary handily two months later against state Sen. Dan Liljenquist.
“I think people realized you can’t have two freshman Senators back there in these really difficult times,” Hatch said. “And they knew me. A lot of them realized, my gosh, do we really want to give up this kind of experience? And I also said this is going to be my last term, which it will be.”
Hatch said he would not have run again if he wasn’t the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, with the possibility of becoming chairman. That, of course, will only happen if the GOP can win the majority.
“I hope we do get in the majority,” Hatch said. “We’ve got a good shot at it.”