Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A passer-by noticed Sen. Orrin Hatch leaving the Salt Lake Chamber building after meeting with Utah business leaders during a recent campaign swing through the state.
"Is that Hatch?" the man asked.
Told it was the senator, he replied, "Time for him to go home."
Though he appears to move a little slower these days, Hatch maintains a full schedule and has no plans to relinquish his place in the U.S. Senate.
The meeting at the Chamber was among several gatherings the 78-year-old Republican attended on this day that combined campaigning with Senate business, and Hatch had his share of supporters.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who accompanied Hatch for the day, described his colleague as "tenacious and tireless."
"It's astonishing the impact Sen. Hatch has had on the Senate," Barrasso said. "I can't imagine the Senate without him."
Neither can Hatch.
Between meetings, Hatch, who is unaccustomed to primary elections because he hasn't had one since 1976, conceded that campaigning is exhausting. But "I believe in what I'm doing."
One thing Hatch had not done since Liljenquist forced him into a runoff was debate him face to face. That changed Friday when the two met on KSL Radio for an hour. Tax policy was one of the issues the candidates differed on.
"I'm against raising taxes," he said, adding it won't help reduce the national deficit. "The Democrats will just take it and spend it, and liberal Republicans, by the way."
In an interview, Hatch said the race will come down to age and experience. But he quickly modifies the statement to remove the word age.
"Well, let me put it this way: seniority and experience. I meant that’s what it comes down to. Some of our people on the far right don't believe seniority is important. Unfortunately, that's the rule back there," he said.
"But even more important than seniority is experience. When you find a senator that can do what I do and has the experience to do it and has the respect of colleagues on both sides of aisle and who works as hard as I do, I think it would be pretty problematic to not want that person to represent you."
Hatch started courting the tea party after seeing what befell Sen. Bob Bennett, whom far-right delegates swept out of office at the state Republican Party convention in 2010.
"I've tried to work with the tea party and people who have differences with me," he said. "In our state, I think most of the tea party people are pretty darn decent people. Some come from the fringe and think they can take over the system. That's where it gets irritating."
Hatch said he's known in Washington for reaching across the political aisle, citing his work with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and others.
"I never take a position that I know everything and they don't know anything," he said. "There are good people on the other side who want to do good things, too."
In interviews and on the campaign trail, Hatch says his seventh and final term would be his best. He often touts the possibility of becoming chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He also maintains that he has — sometimes on his own — saved jobs at Hill Air Force Base and will continue to do so, comments that rankle his opponent.
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