Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is hosting a re-election fundraiser in early January, according to an invitation obtained by CNN, stoking further intrigue about a Senate seat that’s being eyed by Mitt Romney.
Hatch is inviting donors to his eighth annual ski retreat January 5-6 at the posh St. Regis Hotel in Park City, Utah. The suggested donation for the family pass for couples with children is $5,000 to The Hatch Election Committee. A $3,500 donation to the PAC is requested for two passes.
The invitation is notable because many expected the 83-year-old Hatch, who is the longest serving Republican in Senate history, to announce his retirement from the Senate early next year once he successfully ushers the massive Republican tax reform package to the President’s desk. At one point, the seven-term Utah Republican hinted that he would like to see Romney replace him in the Senate when he leaves.
Sources close to Romney say he would be interested in running for the seat if Hatch were to retire, and several “draft Romney” groups have formed in Utah.
But Hatch was clearly in his element over the past few weeks as he oversaw the complex negotiations over the tax reform bill. The Utah Republican has said he will make a decision early next year, and his spokesman has repeatedly told CNN that he is entirely focused on bringing the tax bill to a successful conclusion.
“Senator Hatch holds this event every year in order to gather longtime political friends and allies in Utah. He will hold the event regardless of his final decision about 2018,” Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said Thursday.
Romney’s advisers would not comment for this story. They have repeatedly said Romney supports and admires Hatch, and that he will not have any comment on the Senate race until Hatch makes a decision.
Adding to the intrigue surrounding the Senate seat, President Donald Trump has been encouraging Hatch to continue serving his constituents in Utah. Hatch traveled with the President Monday on Air Force One to Utah, where Trump announced reductions to Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
During the Monday event, he said he hoped Hatch will “continue to serve your state and your country in the Senate for a very long time to come.”
The following night, Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, blasted Romney during a campaign rally as someone who lacks “honor and integrity.”
Romney did not respond to Bannon’s comments.
Trump and Romney spoke Tuesday evening in what several aides familiar with the discussion described as a “courtesy call” because the President had been in Romney’s home state the previous day. They said the White House request to connect the two men came before Bannon’s speech. It is unclear whether they discussed Bannon’s remarks or Romney’s potential Senate run in Utah.
When asked Monday if his encouragement of Hatch was a message to Romney, Trump called the former presidential nominee a “good man.”
“Mitt’s a good man,” he said.
The White House has pushed back on the notion that Trump is urging Hatch to run again as an attempt to keep Romney out of the Senate. They have pointed out that President has been telling Hatch to run again all year.
Trump and Romney have vigorously disagreed on a host of issues. Most recently after Trump publicly backed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Romney tweeted “No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”
Still, during an appearance on CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said Romney and Trump have a “great relationship.”
Hatch, who has been friendly to Trump throughout his presidency, is a prolific fundraiser who raised more than $10 million for his last campaign. He raised $3.4 million between January and the end of September, according to Federal Election Commission records.
During a town-hall style call with constituents on Wednesday night, Hatch addressed questions about his plans: “In the next few weeks, I believe we are going to have tax reform signed into law, we are going to extend CHIP, and a number of other important things,” he said on the call. “After that, I plan to spend time with my family to discuss plans for the future. I think I’ll have an announcement sometime after that.”