Sen. Orrin G. Hatch said Thursday he’s continuing to edge toward seeking an eighth Senate term in 2018.
But speaking with reporters at the Capitol Thursday afternoon, the Utah Republican did not go as far as he was reported to have gone in remarks to CNN earlier in the day.
“Well, put it this way: It’s just too early to make a decision,” Hatch said. “You know, my intention is to continue to serve Utah.”
Hatch had earlier told CNN, “I’m planning on [running] right now.” The octogenarian is the longest serving Republican senator and had previously said his seventh term would be his last.
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have both leaned on Hatch to stick around. “His pitch is he needs me,” the Utah lawmaker told CNN of the president.
Hatch’s comments came hours after former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, long considered a potential Senate candidate and possible primary challenger to Hatch, reportedly accepted Trump’s offer to serve as ambassador to Russia.
“He didn’t really want to run for Senate,” Hatch told CNN, dismissing speculation that Huntsman would have run against him.
Hatch ended 2016 with more than $2 million in the bank. While Utah is heavily Republican, he could be vulnerable to a primary challenger. Hatch’s former Utah colleague, Sen. Robert F. Bennett, was among the first GOP incumbents to lose a primary in the 2010 conservative wave, unseated by Mike Lee, the state’s current junior senator.
Bennett, who was 76 at the time, had earned conservative ire after supporting the Troubled Asset Relief Program and collaborating with Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden on health care legislation. But conservatives were also angered that Bennett had broken a term-limit pledge when he ran for re-election in 2004.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.