WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) — One of the longest-serving senators in U.S. history bid farewell to Utah Republican Party delegates Saturday, offering a solemn goodbye to the state that sent him to the Senate for 41 years.
Orrin Hatch’s remarks to the state GOP convention were brief but emotional.
“Together, we have accomplished incredible things,” the longtime lawmaker told a largely adoring crowd in suburban Salt Lake City.
Before his speech, the state party played a video summing up Hatch’s political career featuring praise from President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and late President Ronald Reagan over a swell of inspirational music.
Yet Hatch’s retirement comes none too soon for some party loyalists who seethed at the possibility that he might break a promise not to seek an eighth term.
“Thank you for retiring,” shouted one woman from the crowd as Hatch, 83, approached the stage.
He steps down with his hand-picked successor, former presidential contender Mitt Romney, standing nearby. Romney will look to secure the party’s nomination at the convention later in the day.
Since encouraging Romney to run, however, Hatch has largely stayed out of the race for his replacement, and he did not mention the former Massachusetts governor during his short speech on Saturday.
Hatch’s decision to retire in January allowed him to leave his legacy intact and avoid a bruising re-election battle. As his years in office added up, Hatch repeatedly told voters his experience and clout made him more effective.
But after Utah’s other longtime senator, Republican Bob Bennett, was ousted in a 2010 tea party backlash, Hatch overcame a tough primary challenge and promised to make his next term his last.
He flexed his political muscle during his last two years in office, helping push through an overhaul of the tax code and persuading Trump to downsize two national monuments in southern Utah, a controversial move that had long been sought by the state’s political leaders.
In 2000, he ran a brief campaign for president but abandoned the effort after winning only 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses.
His decision to step down now, as the senior-most Republican senator and third in line to the presidency, leaves 71-year-old Romney as the heavy favorite to represent Utah in the Senate.
Hatch has not divulged his plans after leaving office, but supporters have begun raising millions of dollars to create a think tank and foundation bearing his name.