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.
At the recent meeting at the Salt Lake Chamber, many of the questions for Hatch centered on health care. State Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake, peppered the senator with questions about the Affordable Care Act, most of which on this day he doesn't directly answer.
"It's a disaster," the senator says, blaming the law on Democrats and vowing to repeal it with the help of Mitt Romney.
"Mitt should be very helpful in this area," Hatch tells the business people. "I really believe he's going to make it through. There's a feeling this president (Barack Obama) isn't up to the job."
After mingling with the crowd, the senator climbs into an SUV for the short ride to his office in the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building. There he meets with Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, Big Game Forever and representatives from the governor's office and the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The subject is wolf management.
"What's so hard about it?" Hatch asks.
"Wolves are very good at doing what they do," replies Ryan Benson of Big Game Forever. "That is surviving."
The talk drifts to turning environmental laws to favor sportsmen and ranchers rather than environmentalists.
"We just don't have the horses there right now," Hatch says. "We're hoping to change that."
The mid-morning meeting ends with Hatch posing for pictures with some of the participants before he heads to the Utah Farm Bureau for lunch. Over sandwiches from Paradise Bakery, the senator chats with farmers and ranchers from around the state.
"If we got you 32 more votes, we wouldn't have to mess around," one rancher says referring to Hatch falling just short of winning the Republican nomination at the state convention.
Says Hatch, "I wish you could have."
Sen. Orrin Hatch
Occupation: U.S. senator since 1977
Politics: Republican; past chairman Senate Judiciary Committee; ranking member Senate Finance Committee
Education: B.S. history, Brigham Young University, history; University of Pittsburgh Law School
Family: wife, Elaine; six children
Residence: Washington, D.C., Salt Lake City
Occupation: formerly worked at Bain Consulting, Affiliated Computer Services, Focus Services; most recently consulted for Laura and John Arnold Foundation on pension reform
Politics: Republican; Utah state senator, 2009-2011, passed bills on Medicaid and pension reform
Education: B.A. economics, Brigham Young University; University of Chicago Law School
Family: wife, Brooke; six chidlren
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