SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch is expected to finally announce next week whether he's running for re-election in 2018 or ending a career of more than four decades in the Senate to make way for Mitt Romney to run for his seat.
Even those close to the 83-year-old Utah Republican have said privately they're not sure what he'll do, especially after President Donald Trump urged him to continue to serve "for a very long time to come" in a recent speech at the Utah Capitol.
Romney has said little about the race, although he is said to be readying a campaign. Hatch said earlier this year he would be willing to consider retiring if Romney, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, would run.
"One thing is clear — Sen. Hatch is in the driver's seat on this decision, and he is not going to be pressured," said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.
The time it's taking for Hatch to make up his mind has been frustrating for some, Perry said, but that hasn't stopped the senator from "doing what he has done his entire career, taking time to think about his decision and counting his votes."
Polls suggest Hatch would face a tough battle for an eighth term, while showing Romney would be a much stronger candidate against the Democrat already in the race, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson.
"The last thing Orrin Hatch wants is to go out a loser and be rejected," a Utah political insider said, noting the numbers have had an impact. But that has to be weighed against what it would mean to leave behind a lifetime in politics.
"Some people can walk away," said the insider who asked not to be identified. "It would be more difficult for him."
No date has been set yet for the long-awaited decision by Hatch, but his spokesman, Matt Whitlock, said Friday the senator "will make an announcement before he returns to Washington."
The Senate is scheduled to convene on Wednesday following a holiday break. Hatch has spent the time in Utah with his family, discussing the decision he had said he would make by the end of the year.
His eighth annual ski retreat for donors is still scheduled for Jan. 5-6 at the St. Regis Hotel in Deer Valley. According to CNN, the suggested contribution to the Hatch Election Committee is $5,000 for families and $3,500 for couples.
The Hatch Election Committee raised nearly $3.5 million from Jan. 1, 2017 through the end of September, the most recent financial disclosures to the Federal Election Commission show.
Hatch had promised during his last campaign, in 2012, that this would be his final term in office. But for the past two years, he has talked about making one more bid for office, citing his clout in Congress.
The nation's longest-serving Republican senator, Hatch is Senate president pro-tempore and third in the line of presidential succession, as well as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
Hatch helped get the president's $1.5 trillion tax cut plan through Congress before Christmas, and was behind Trump's Dec. 4 trip to Utah to announce significant reductions to the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
The president's praise at the Utah Capitol ceremony was called a "soft launch" for Hatch's re-election. It also spurred new talk of Hatch serving just two of the six years of a new term, the time left that he could continue as finance chairman.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, the newest member of the state's congressional delegation, said recently that he's gone back and forth about what he thinks Hatch will choose to do.
"When President Trump came out, that kind of shifted in my mind. Before that I would have told you I don't think he'll run," Curtis said, adding quickly that Hatch hasn't confided in him.
Curtis, endorsed by Romney in the special election to fill the remaining year of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz's term, was asked by the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards whether he wants to see Romney in the Senate.
"Let me be careful here. I personally want to give Sen. Hatch the space that he needs to make the decision that's right for him,' Curtis said. "If Sen. Hatch chooses not to run, I would very much like to see Gov. Romney."
He said a Sen. Romney "would be exciting for the state and I think he would be one of the few people who could step into that role without us losing some of the experience that Sen. Hatch has."
Romney, credited with turning around the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City after a bid-buying scandal, is seen as one of Utah's most popular politicians. He calls the state home after a term as Massachusetts governor and two presidential bids.53 comments on this story
Although Romney has kept quiet about his plans, two of his closest friends in Utah suggested to the Deseret News in November that he had not ruled out a Senate run, even if Hatch seeks re-election.
Curtis said he doesn't believe Hatch waiting as long as he has to make a decision about running has "hurt the race as much as some might say," by discouraging candidates unable to raise money and campaign resources quickly.
"I don't think any of them have gone away," the congressman said. But he said time is running out. "We're down now to where a decision has to be made right within the next couple of weeks."