By Lisa Hagen - 02-12-17 07:30 AM EST
A handful of former presidential candidates are testing the waters for 2018 Senate races.
Carly Fiorina, who ran for president in 2016, earlier this week expressed interest in challenging Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the former Democratic vice presidential nominee.
And in Utah, the GOP field could be lush with ex-presidential candidates if GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch retires. Jon Huntsman, a 2012 GOP candidate, could run for the seat, as could 2016 independent candidate Evan McMullin. Even Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 nominee, hasn't ruled anything out.
Former presidential candidates have a huge advantage coming into a Senate race, having already created a national profile and a fundraising network.
Utah's Senate race appears ripe for opportunity, even though Hatch, the longest-serving GOP senator in history, has kept his cards close to his chest about whether he'll retire at the end of his term in 2018.
Hatch is considering running for an eighth term, even though he previously said in 2012 that he'd retire in 2018. Potential Senate contenders have said their candidacy would be contingent on his decision, but Utah political observers expect a contested primary regardless.
"Utah's going to have an exciting primary race in 2018 for the Senate, I'm very confident, no matter what," said Damon Cann, a political science professor at Utah State University.
"Whether Sen. Hatch is in or out, there are candidates who are scoping out opportunity, and for a number of them, I think they will run whether Hatch stays in or out of race."
Huntsman, who ended his 2012 presidential bid after coming in third place in New Hampshire's primary, is considering a Senate bid. The former Utah governor and former ambassador to China is seen as a formidable opponent whose gubernatorial tenure was viewed favorably in the state.
While he has said in interviews said that his decision would be partially based off Hatch's decision, observers speculate that he'll mount a bid in any circumstance.
A poll from late January found that nearly 80 percent of Utah voters believe Hatch shouldn't run for another term. The survey, which was conducted for a Utah paper owned by the Huntsman family, also found Hatch trailing the former governor.
McMullin is viewed as another top contender in the state. His presidential candidacy emerged from the "Never Trump" movement, and he pitched himself as the alternative for voters who couldn't bring themselves to support Trump or Hillary Clinton.
While McMullin ended up coming in third in Utah, about 6 points behind Clinton, political observers say he is still viewed favorably in the state.
"If Trump actually loses popularity in the state of Utah, which is a hard thing to gauge, that could be a problem for Hatch and be helpful for McMullin," said Jim Curry, an assistant political science professor at University of Utah.
But any hopes for McMullin or Huntsman would likely be dashed if Romney were to get in the race, as he would almost certainly be the front-runner.
Ryan Williams, a former aide to Romney's presidential campaign, said while he hasn't spoken to Romney directly about a Senate bid, he'd be surprised if he jumped into the race.
"I would at this point be extremely surprised if the governor ran for Senate, but it's something he won't rule out because of his strong desire to explore all opportunities in public service," Williams said.
The former Massachusetts governor has close ties in Utah and has frequently touted his time as CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Committee.
While he appears less likely to run, others in the state look to his son, Josh Romney, as a possible Senate candidate or potentially running for governor in 2020.
"He is the Romney to watch for the Senate election rather than Mitt," Cann said.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee, is also floated as a potential contender.
In Virginia, meanwhile, Fiorina told a local radio station that she is "certainly looking" at challenging Kaine. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO memorably feuded with Trump during the 2016 GOP primary and ended her bid after the New Hampshire primary. She joined Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) would-be presidential ticket and only backed Trump's bid less than two months out from the November election.
While the race is still early and the field has yet to take shape, there are a few other Republican names being floated for the Virginia race. GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock, who recently won reelection to her swingy Northern Virginia seat, is considered a top contender.
"Without knowing what the full field looks like, [Fiorina's] got a good shot," said a Virginia political operative. "She's a good campaigner."
Strategists point to her experience in the technology sector, which they say plays well in Northern Virginia. But they note that one roadblock Fiorina might face is reminding voters that she lives in the state. She has previously run for Senate in 2010 in California.
"After she ended her presidential campaign, she has been making rounds across the state and helping other candidates," the Virginia operative said. "She's getting her name out to the grassroots folks that would be helpful for her to propel her in the primary."
Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham is also mulling a run for the Senate seat after being considered for White House press secretary in Trump's administration. Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), who took himself out of the running for the Senate seat, praised Ingraham, according to the Washington Post.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, who also unsuccessfully ran for the 2016 GOP nomination, is considering a run as well.
While the race for Virginia's Senate seat is considered competitive, Kaine would likely go in with a slight advantage, given Clinton's victory in the state and his own foray into vice presidential politics.
Kaine, a former Virginia governor and Richmond mayor, is popular in the state. But midterm elections usually yield lower voter turnout, especially among Democrats.
Strategists point to the unexpectedly close 2014 Senate race in the state, where Republican Ed Gillespie almost knocked off Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.
"In Virginia, anything can happen," the operative said. "I think it's a tossup with slight advantage to Kaine probably. If it's Fiorina or Comstock, I think they have a really good shot."