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Hatch Dips Toe In 2000 Waters

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is considering jumping into the crowded GOP presidential field, but Republican sources say Hatch may really be positioning himself to run for vice president.

Hatch's press secretary, Paul Smith, confirmed that the senator is thinking of forming a presidential exploratory committee. He said a decision would be made in two weeks.

Smith said Hatch has talked to several GOP consultants but has not hired anyone yet. Published reports mention Reagan pollster and Utah native Dick Wirthlin and California media consultant Sal Russo.

Hatch's presidential rumblings seemed strange. The GOP field already has 10 candidates and the front-runner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, is a clear favorite to capture the nomination.

GOP sources say that Hatch may be positioning himself for vice president and thinking that getting into the presidential debates will keep him in the national spotlight. They also say he may have an untapped fund-raising base in the Mormon community.

Hatch's office pointed to a story Thursday in the Salt Lake Tribune. It quotes Hatch as saying earlier this month that "I'd be the longest of long shots . . .it's very late in the game. It'll be very, very tough to raise the money. I'll have to call on my fellow [Utah residents], my fellow conservatives . . . especially Reagan conservatives . . . I'm not sure I'll need as much money as George W. Bush."

Hatch, 65, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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