Conceding that he's starting late and will be badly outspent, Sen. Orrin Hatch says that he would build a "skinny cat" network of small contributors to aid his quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
"Don't count me out," says the Utah Republican. "I think you're going to find there's going to be great groundswell, I guarantee you there's going to be a race."
Monday, Hatch was wrapping up a two-day swing in Iowa where precinct caucuses open the nominating season. He met privately with key activists, spoke at a suburban house party and toured a local dairy, chatting with workers.
Hatch stunned many when he joined the race just three weeks ago, with rival candidates having been in the race for months and in some cases years. He joined a race where Texas Gov. George W. Bush holds a commanding lead both financially and the polls. "I'm the underdog, there's no question about it," he says.
Conceding that the GOP establishment is with Bush, Hatch says he will build a network of small contributors and supporters, "I believe we can do that, we're going to have a skinny cat campaign. He's got all the fat cats."
In his opening swing, Hatch seems to be winning a few converts. "He's a new face in Iowa and I think that's refreshing," says Doug Anderson. "There's a lot of them we've been seeing time after time after time. I think he has an opportunity."
Hatch offers a sharply conservative package of tax cuts and anti-crime proposals, and says he brings a national reputation to the campaign trail. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has had a high-profile role in the confirmation battles of Supreme Court nominees.
While others in the large GOP field offer a similar mix of ideas, Hatch draws a distinction, "They're good guys and any one of those would make a good president," he says. "None of them can win and they all know that. We know that very few of these people have a chance of winning."
Turning to Bush, Hatch says, "The difference between him and me is he has four years of experience as governor of Texas. I have 23 years of working on these problems. My only worry is that over the long run he's not going to be able to hang in there because of a lack of experience."
The ultra-conservative Republican says he's built a reputation for being able to work across partisan lines, pointing to his "fabled odd couple" relationship with liberal Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Despite the late start, Hatch says don't count him out just yet, "We think we may just surprise some people."