SALT LAKE CITY — Boyd Matheson said Tuesday he hasn't decided whether to run for the seat now held by Sen. Orrin Hatch despite encouragement from Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former White House chief strategist.
Bannon told Fox News Monday that a coalition is coming together to challenge every Senate Republican incumbent up for re-election except Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and said Matheson is already setting up an exploratory committee for the 2018 race.
But Matheson, president of the conservative, Utah-based Sutherland Institute and a former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said there's "no exploratory committee, nothing to announce, nothing to see there."
Matheson said, though, that Bannon asked to meet with him while he was in Washington, D.C., last week and "the race absolutely did come up. And he was encouraging that I should take a look at it."
Bannon, who returned to Breitbart News after being forced out of his key position in the White House this summer, is working closely with Citizens United President David Bossie to bring what Politico called "bomb-throwing outsiders" into the Senate.
Matheson said he has no real timeline for deciding whether to get in the race, but isn't waiting for Hatch, R-Utah, to announce he's running for re-election — or to see who else might be in the race.
Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Games in Utah and one of the state's most popular politicians, is reportedly seriously considering a run if Hatch chooses to end his Senate career.
"I firmly believe that a decision to run should never be based on who is or isn't running. You either have a vision and an agenda or you don't," Matheson said. "We have people whose only vision is a vision of themselves in office rather than a vision for their state or their country."
He said that vision is what he is considering as he ponders a run because "what's the policy play, what's the principle play is what's really going to matter for the people of the state and the country."
Matheson said he has not yet talked to Hatch about his interest. But he said he has talked to Republican leaders who opposed Trump in last year's presidential race but now agree with Trump over "their absolute frustration" with the Senate.
Hatch, 83, said this would be his final term when he ran for re-election in 2012. Since then, the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee has indicated he may well run again next year after 42 years in office.
He's expected to make his intentions clear by the end of the year.
"Sen. Hatch has not made a final decision regarding whether to continue serving after 2018, but in the end, Utahns will make that determination, not Washington. Should he decide to run again, he will win," Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said.
Hatch political adviser Dave Hansen had little to say about a possible run by Matheson.
"We don't comment on 'speculation' candidates," Hansen said.