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Democrat Jenny Wilson sets sights on Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2018

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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson announced Monday that she will challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in 2018.

Wilson, a Democrat, said she has been "overwhelmed" by encouragement from Utahns who want change in Washington.

"They are tired of the bickering and recognize the bipartisan successes I have had working locally," she said. "Utahns want an apolitical voice, and that's what I represent."

Wilson, 51, launched an exploratory committee earlier this year and has raised $139,328, according to her campaign. She will hold a formal campaign kickoff event in late August.

"Utahns want a senator who works for them, who listens to them and who gets things done. But after 40 years of Orrin Hatch, Washington is broken. Orrin Hatch is a decent man, but he’s part of the problem in Washington, and he has forgotten who sent him there," she said.

Hatch, 83, has indicated he will run for an eighth term, barring some unforeseen circumstance.

President pro tem of the Senate and chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Hatch pledged in 2012 that his current term would be his last but seems to have changed his mind.

The senator's leadership role puts him at the center of the most critical debates in Washington, including health care and tax reform, said Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock.

"With all the problems Utahns sent him here to solve, the 2018 election cycle has not been top of mind," Whitlock said. "While he intends to run, he has not yet reached a final decision and hopes to by the end of the year. But should the senator decide to run, he will win."

The seven-term senator raised about $1.3 million in the first three months of this year and another $1 million in the quarter that ended June 30.

The amount raised from January through March is more than he collected in all of 2016. The senator has about $4.1 million overall in his campaign account.

A Democrat hasn't held the Senate seat since Hatch took it from Sen. Frank Moss in 1976.

Wilson, the daughter of former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, has worked at various levels of government, including as chief of staff to late Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah. She also served as an aide to the Utah Legislature and was a candidate for Salt Lake City mayor in 2007.

Wilson said Hatch used to pride himself on being a check and balance on the administration, but that has change since President Donald Trump won the White House.

"The lack of check and balance may be what put me over the edge on this thing, among other things," she said about her decision to run. "We need Congress to be a check on the administration no matter which party has a president in office, and that is not the case. Hatch is doubling down on Trump."

Like Orton, a Blue Dog Democrat, Wilson said she would stand up to her party when necessary.

In the private and nonprofit sectors, Wilson worked for the Sundance Institute and Film Festival, 2002 Winter Olympics, Voices for Utah Children and the University of Utah’s John A. Moran Eye Center.

Wilson graduated from the University of Utah and received a master's in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School. Wilson and her husband have two sons.

"I can’t imagine there is anyone out there that is more in touch with Utah than me," the fifth-generation Utahn said. "I think I understand this state."

Wilson has set her sights on Hatch but said she brings collaborative and bipartisan ethics that would play well regardless of who the GOP opponent might be.

"I think that we’re missing that in Washington, so whether it’s Hatch or anybody else, I think I can say, ‘Look, I’ve been elected. I know how to deliver with accomplishments. I’m in touch with the community,'" she said.

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Dennis Romboy


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