“I could spend the next 15 months campaigning to do Senator Hatch’s job or I could spend the next 15 months doing the job I was elected to do,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told a press conference today in announcing that he would not run against incumbent Sen. Hatch in the 2012 election.
Chaffetz held a press conference today at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, to announce that despite months of public talk about squaring off against Hatch, a six-term incumbent in the 2012 election that he had now decided his time would be better spent remaining in the House of Representatives. Chaffetz cited recent success he’s had championing the Cut Cap and Balance legislation that sought a constitutional balanced budget amendment coupled with major spending cuts, that garnered 234 House votes before being tabled in the Senate, as a major indicator that he was excelling in the House. He also noted his leadership over the subcommittee of Government Oversight and other opportunities to acknowledge that he could have more impact if he was not drawn into a brutal election contest with Hatch.
Money was also certainly a factor Chaffetz said.
“If I were to run an interparty battle it would be a multi-million dollar bloodbath,” Chaffetz said. “I don’t think that would necessarily be in my best interest, I don’t think that would necessarily be in the best interest of our party, our nation or our state.”
Chaffetz said he hoped to continue to be a conservative voice and made it clear he would work to see the defeat of Utah’s lone democrat Jim Matheson “in whatever position he runs for.”
While Chaffetz struck a note for party unity going into a presidential election year, he did not pull any punches when it came to Hatch’s leadership. As Utah’s senior federal delegate Chaffetz says he expected Hatch to work better to make sure all delegates worked together on important legislation. Instead, Chaffetz described the delegates working relationship as “totally dysfunctional,” arguing that he felt his only ally in the senate was freshman Senator Mike Lee.
Chaffetz also declined to comment on candidates he would like to see challenge Hatch in the next election, though he did admit that his announcement not to run was meant to allow others the chance to plan for their own political futures. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that there is a domino effect here,” Chaffetz said. “People are trying to make decisions about whether to run for the House or not, or to run for the Senate.” State Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, for example, has previously expressed interest in running for Hatch’s seat, but has not made any announcements.
Kirk Jowers, Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, says a Hatch versus Chaffetz battle would have been a “spectacular race” but not a sure victory for Chaffetz. “Representative Chaffetz has really explored this run,” Jowers said. “And that’s why it’s made such great political theatre; it was a very legitimate question for Chaffetz. He’s very successful in the House, very tied in with House leadership—it would have been a lot to leave behind.”
Indeed future leadership roles in the House was a factor Chaffetz said weighed heavily in favor of his decision to not run for the Senate. He acknowledged having a candid conversation with Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-OH, in the summer about his run, along with numerous other representatives and senators. “Do I anticipate and hope that I keep on that leadership track? Absolutely,” Chaffetz said.
Jowers also agreed the contest with Hatch would have been bruising since “he would be going against a six-term incumbent with up to $6 million in cash,” Jowers said in regards to Hatch’s strong campaign war chest.
Chaffetz, however, seemed acknowledge that a run for re-election to the House was not the end of his political future. Speaking with City Weekly after the announcement, Chaffetz repeated that he believes that turn over in politics is good for the country, but says he does not know how many of his own terms as an incumbent in the House is too many. “I have been opposed to term limits,” Chaffetz said. “I just think voters need to pay attention. If the voters want Senator Hatch [again] they should do it.”
As for the number of terms, Chaffetz could see himself serving, he says that too is left to the voters. “I don’t know what the magic number is,” Chaffetz said. “But I think voters know when it is.”