Look, Orrin Hatch is not a bad guy. But he's an old guy. … We cannot risk the possibility of an 80-year-old man taking office, only to retire or die before his term is through. —Scott Howell
SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic Senate candidate Scott Howell offered Sen. Orrin Hatch a lesson in LDS Church leadership hierarchy in an escalating war of words over the six-term Republican's age.
The 58-year-old retired IBM executive has several times during the campaign made an issue of the fact that Hatch is 78 and has served 36 years. He has emphatically pointed out that Hatch would be 84 at the end of a seventh term.
Most recently Howell sent out a fundraising email saying, "Look, Orrin Hatch is not a bad guy. But he's an old guy. … We cannot risk the possibility of an 80-year-old man taking office, only to retire or die before his term is through."
Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen called the email "offensive." In an interview with a Salt Lake City TV station, Hansen said the LDS Church "has some people who are not exactly youth who are doing a magnificent job of running this organization."
On Tuesday, the Howell campaign sent out a press release saying the Hatch camp needs a reminder that LDS general authorities are "released" at age 70, and there are only a select 15 men that "exceed that limit."
"If the Hatch campaign is equating Sen. Hatch's service with a divine calling from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they're more confused than I imagined," said Howell, a former Utah Senate minority leader.
According to the LDS Church's website, "members of the First Quorum of the Seventy are called to serve until the age of 70, at which time they are given emeritus status (similar to being released). Members of the Second Quorum of the Seventy typically serve for three to five years; after this time, they are released."
Howell went on to say bishops in the LDS Church are typically called for five years of service and stake presidents usually no more than 10 years.
"Apostles and prophets in the church are called for life — not public servants," he said. "If Orrin or his campaign believes he is or should be part of that group, they are truly misguided.
"We do not elect senators for life. I would hope the good senator would not be equating 36 years as a career politician with that of a general authority in the (LDS) Church. If that's the case, we've got much bigger concerns than policy differences and years of service to be worried about," Howell said.
Later Tuesday, Hansen said "Scott's original comments indicating Sen. Hatch might die in office were offensive and the worst form of campaigning I have ever seen."
"To continue to discuss this would be a waste of the voters' time and an insult to their intelligence," he said.
According to the Senate Historical Office, the average age of senators in the current Congress is 61.5 years old. Hatch is one of 19 senators in their 70s. Three others — Hawaii Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, as well as Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey — are in their 80s.
About 13 percent of the nation is over age 65, about the same as the percentage of seniors in Utah, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Contributing: The Associated Press