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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah
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How Orrin Hatch became Utah’s longest serving senator

(Photo: Associated Press, file Nov. 6, 2018)

SALT LAKE CITY — After four decades of service in the U.S. Senate, Orrin Hatch will be giving his farewell address this week.  Some political analysts say Hatch made some very shrewd moves that won him the election in 1976, even though he had never held elected office before.

Senator Orrin Hatch had been considering his 1976 Senate run for two years, however, some political historians say he waited until the last day to register as a candidate.  University of Utah Political Science Professor Tim Chambless this turned out to be a wise choice.

“He may have filed on the very last day possible, maybe, to get some additional news coverage, but, he was well prepared to run and emerge among the five or six Republican candidates,” Chambless says.

What would make Utahns vote for a man with no political experience?  Chambless says Hatch used to be a courtroom attorney, and during the debates, he looked like one.  He came off as more assertive than the incumbent, Frank Moss.  Plus, he says Hatch did something quite innovative for the late 70’s with a relatively new kind of technology… the audio cassette tape.

“He sent audio cassette tapes of him discussing his political positions and his religious faith to Republican delegates,” he adds.

This was the time when Chambless says Utahns started moving away from the Democratic Party and started leaning toward the political right.  So, when former California Governor Ronald Reagan gave Hatch a ringing endorsement, it put Hatch over the top.

“Reagan came out and spoke about Orrin Hatch, and that helped to swing a lot of undecided voters toward this first-time candidate.”

Plus, both Hatch and Reagan opposed one key thing, namely, the proposed MX Missile “Shell Game.”  It would have been a large railroad system which moved nuclear missiles through Utah’s west desert and Nevada’s eastern one during the height of the Cold War.  It was intended to confuse intelligence agencies within the USSR, since they wouldn’t know which silos actually housed a nuclear weapon.

Chambless says, “That caused a great deal of concern among folks living out here in the Rocky Mountain West because they could see that Utah and Nevada were basically in the crosshairs of the Soviet Union.”

That proposal was eventually scrapped.