Hatch makes it official: presidential bid is over

Utah Republican displays characteristic humor in dropping out of contest

January 27, 2000|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Flashing the humor that marked his debate appearances, Orrin G. Hatch said yesterday he reconsidered dropping out of the GOP presidential race when plans to announce the decision Tuesday were canceled for bad weather.

The coincidence of "the largest snowstorm to hit this city in 10 years" prompted the Utah senator to suggest to his wife, Elaine, "Maybe I shouldn't resign. Maybe this snowstorm is a sign from God."

But Hatch said his spouse reminded him of the message that roared Monday out of Iowa, where he claimed only 1 percent of the votes in the nation's first test of voter sentiment in the White House race.

" `No, Orrin,' she said. `The Iowa caucuses were the sign from God.' "

Unpleasantly surprised

Despite his self-deprecating jokes, the Judiciary Committee chairman and 23-year Senate veteran admitted he was surprised and disappointed to discover that clout in Washington doesn't translate into votes in Cedar Rapids.

"It was a little bit frustrating to find that people in Iowa didn't even know who I was and that the 23 years hardly meant anything to them," Hatch told reporters at his rescheduled news conference here.

"It was a little disturbing and it was a little frightening to me that people don't realize what we're doing around here," he said. "Maybe that's why they've put up with some of the things they have through all these years."

On the campaign trail, he would often mention the many laws he's helped write, only to notice his audiences growing bored.

"I think they were tired of hearing about accomplishments and wanted to hear somebody who would give a little more pizzazz to it," the senator said.

Hatch, 65, had kind words for all five of his former competitors for the Republican nomination. His endorsement went to front-runner George W. Bush. He said the Texas governor is best able to unite the GOP to win elections and to reach across party lines to govern.

Backs Bush

"He's the only one I think who can win, and I believe is the only one who will bring both parties together in doing what's right for this country and, of course, changing the attitudes in Washington that sometimes we've seen over the last seven years so far," Hatch said.

When Hatch entered the contest last July, he was gambling that Bush, the son of a former president and a man who has little experience in elective office and almost none in foreign policy, wouldn't be able to go the distance.

"Orrin understood fully from the beginning that he had very long odds," said Sen. Robert F. Bennett, also a Utah Republican. "But front-runners have stumbled before, and there was a possibility that the front-runner might stumble here. He wanted to be sure, if the front-runner did stumble, that there was a viable and proper alternative there."

Iowa voters and those polled elsewhere never put Hatch near the top of the list of alternatives.

The picture

"I knew I was having problems when a lady in New Hampshire came up to me, and she asked if she could have her picture taken with me," Hatch said yesterday. "I said: `Really? Do you want send this picture to your kids?' She said, `No. I just need to finish out the roll.' "

Hatch's late-starting, underfinanced, poorly organized bid for the White House was always considered quixotic in the Capitol corridors -- symptomatic of a belated political mid-life crisis.

But his power and prestige won't suffer because of the poor result, drawing fewer than 1,000 votes of 85,000 cast.

He's still chairman of the Judiciary Committee, one of the top Senate jobs. His news conference was packed yesterday with cheering aides and lobbyists eager to show their support.

Hatch's GOP colleagues are particularly pleased that he is running for re-election to his Utah seat, dimming the chance that a Democrat might seize it. No one is likely to be more sympathetic about Hatch's humiliation than his fellow senators.

"Many, if not most, of them consider themselves potential presidential candidates," said David Hoppe, top aide to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. "They'll look at him differently now because he actually did it, put himself out there and suffered the kind of personal rejection that those of us who don't run for election can't understand. It's kind of a reality check for them."

Senatorial sympathy

Most empathetic are the half-dozen senators who have made their own failed bids for the White House. Among them is Massachusetts Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, who returned to the Senate after his unsuccessful presidential race in 1980 to become one of its most productive members and a leading symbol of liberal policies.

"Both Kennedy and [Vermont Democrat] Pat Leahy offered to come to Iowa and New Hampshire and condemn me, if I needed them," Hatch said. "I didn't take them up on it. I think it would have helped me a lot."

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