Trump praises Utah's Hatch as intrigue over Senate race builds

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This point is hammered home by reports that Trump is enticing Utah Senator Orrin Hatch to run again, despite the fact that he's already the longest serving Republican senator in history at the ripe age of 83. This "persuasion" comes via private back-channeling and, more overtly, a personal appearance Trump will make today in which the president is expected to reduce the size of Utah's Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments, a cause that Hatch has championed.

During a tour of the Latter-day Saints Church food services facility in Utah, Trump was asked if he was sending a message to Romney by encouraging Hatch to run for re-election. On Monday, reporters asked Trump about Romney's possible candidacy in Utah, and Trump said, "He's a good man. Mitt's a good man".

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"We hope you will continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a long time to come", Trump said in the state Capitol, calling Hatch a "fighter", a high compliment from the president. Romney has been public about his disagreements with Trump and is a key figure in the Never Trump movement, while Hatch was an early supporter of Trump during the 2016 campaign and has since defended Trump's presidency. "He's not afraid to take on the big boss around here".

The president's motives aren't hard to discern: retaining Hatch would allow Trump to keep an ally close while spurning Romney, his onetime presidential primary opponent who remains a vocal critic, and who would in theory prove a much less obliging Congressman. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Hatch was instrumental in securing the party's victory in passing tax reform legislation through the Senate this weekend.

Romney was no friend of Trump's on the campaign trail; in March 2016, he labeled the president "a phony" and "a fraud" whose "promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University".

Romney, 70, is viewed as a virtual lock to win if he chooses to run for the Senate seat (and Hatch doesn't), with hypothetical polls showing he'd beat his potential Democratic opponent in the heavily Republican, heavily Mormon state by an increasingly huge margin. As Politico's Alex Isenstadt wrote, the push to get Hatch to run again was "aimed in no small part at keeping the president's longtime nemesis, Mitt Romney, out of the Senate". The obvious goal: block Romney by denying him a good chance of winning the Utah senate republican primary, to be held next year. At the time, Hatch told Trump that he hadn't yet made up his mind. "I don't know that he knows what he's going to get with Romney, but it's not going to be what he's got with Hatch". Mitt Romney seemed like a very real possibility.

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