Sen. Orrin G. Hatch announced Tuesday he will retire after seven terms in the Senate. The Utah lawmaker becomes the third of eight Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2018 to retire.
“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.
“That’s why, after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term.”
The 83-year-old Hatch is the most senior GOP senator, putting him third in the order of presidential succession. He is also chairman of the influential Finance Committee, and a senior member of the Judiciary panel.
Watch: Hatch — Time to ‘Hang Up the Gloves’
Ready for Romney?
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, has been touted as a top potential candidate for Hatch’s seat. Romney owns a home in Utah, where the majority of the population shares his Mormon faith.
Romney was the first Mormon presidential nominee from a major party. He has forcefully criticized President Donald Trump, who is also not extremely popular in the Beehive State.
Hatch had named Romney as a preferred successor in an interview with National Journal last year. He later said he had discussed the possibility with Romney, and that Romney would not challenge Hatch if he ran for re-election.
Romney has criticized Trump, most recently for his support for Roy Moore, the controversial Alabama Senate candidate. Moore faced multiple sexual misconduct allegations, including reports that he pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Romney tweeted that Moore’s election would have been “a stain on the GOP and on the nation.”
If Romney decides to run for Senate, he is expected to clear the Republican field. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Utah Senate race Solid Republican.
So far, a handful of Democratic candidates have declared their intent to run for Senate. Jenny Wilson, a member of the Salt Lake County Council, leads other Democrats in fundraising and has nearly $140,000 in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Three other Democrats have announced they are running, though none had more than $5,000 in the bank.
Hatch’s decision ends months of speculation from Utahns as to whether he would run again. The senator had said in 2012 that his seventh term would be his last. But a GOP-controlled Congress and White House opened up new opportunities to wield his power accrued over 41 years in the Senate, raising questions about whether he would run for another term.
As Finance chairman, Hatch helped shepherd a tax overhaul at the end of 2017, a top priority for Trump. Hatch became chairman in 2015 after Republicans took back the Senate, and will be term-limited in that role after 2021.
Watch: Orrin Hatch and Sherrod Brown’s Fiery Tax Bill Skirmish
Trump told reporters during his trip to Utah in December that he was encouraging Hatch, who has become an ally, to run for another term.
During a speech last month on the tax bill, Trump referred to Hatch as “a special friend of mine” and “somebody that spoke really well of me when it wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to do.”
“He was just always in there, always fighting for all of us, and did a fantastic job as chairman,” the president said.