SALT LAKE CITY — Even before the political corpse of ousted Sen. Bob Bennett has cooled, Rep. Jason Chaffetz says he may run against Sen. Orrin Hatch in two years and try to convince conservative Republicans to dump Hatch, too.
Chaffetz may have launched the 2012 race early by telling Fox News on Tuesday that he is considering a run for Hatch's seat. "This anti-incumbent sentiment is a tsunami that isn't going away," he said. "I respect everything that Sen. Hatch has done, but the question is whether 36 years in the U.S. Senate might be enough. Orrin will be 78 in 2012."
Chaffetz later told the Deseret News, "I'm not taking anything off the table. Undoubtedly, 2012 will be a fascinating political year, but I'd like to get through 2010 first."
He added, "We're not going to take anything for granted in November. We're working hard. … But I'm not willing to close up the possibilities of what 2012 might hold."
He also said the organization he is building now might also be used to launch a Senate race.
"We've built a great organization," he said. "As long as we vote right, do a good job of communicating and work hard, who knows where that could take us."
When asked how vulnerable he thinks that Hatch could be after what happened to Bennett, Chaffetz said, "Longevity is not necessarily a selling point in the current climate. There's a lot of good to say about Orrin Hatch. I'm not here to tear him apart. But a lifetime in the Senate is not necessarily a selling point with voters."
After delegates at the Utah Republican Convention dumped Bennett last weekend, Hatch told the Deseret News that he sees no such danger for himself and still plans to run for re-election in 2012.
"As long as I feel as healthy as I do, I plan to run," Hatch said. Even though some delegates booed Hatch at the convention, he dismissed that as just a few hecklers. He said the vast majority of delegates support him.
"I've had a very warm response here today with the delegates," he said at the convention. "I must have shaken 2,000 hands here today," Hatch said. He added, "I'm happy that people are mad. It's about time we get people in this country mad because what's going on back there (in Washington) is bad."
No one booed Chaffetz at Saturday's convention. He was treated more like a rock star.
Conservatives have viewed Chaffetz as a hero for defeating incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Cannon in 2008. Then last year, Chaffetz said many delegates had urged him to run against Bennett.
After publicly toying with that idea, Chaffetz decided to seek re-election to the House instead.
When he was toying with running against Bennett, Chaffetz said last year that reaction he saw by voters as he traveled around the state showed him that Bennett and Hatch were vulnerable.
He said then, "I see the dynamics. I see how the crowds react. I see what happens during the parades and the convention."
Meanwhile, Hatch — like Bennett — is 76 years old. If he is elected in two years at age 78, he would be the oldest Utahn ever elected to the Senate. Hatch would be age 84 at the end of that six-year term. He was first elected to the Senate in 1976.