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Hatch challenger says incumbent too old, could 'retire or die' before term is up

Sen. Orrin Hatch is many things - a former Judiciary Committee Chairman, next-in-line to head the tax-writing finance committee, songwriter and grandfather. But his Democratic opponent is warning that Hatch's age--78 --makes him "an old guy" at risk of retiring or dying in office if reelected in the Nov. 6 elections.

Our nation doesn't need that. And, at nearly 80 years old, he lacks the skills, knowledge and proficiency to face America's modern needs," read an email from Democratic hopeful Scott Howell, 58, to potential supporters. "We cannot risk the possibility of an 80-year-old man taking office, only to retire or die before his term is through."

Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen called the comments "outrageous and offensive," adding they come from a candidate with no shot at winning in November. Utah hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1970.

"That's the first time I've ever heard a candidate say, `Vote for me, my opponent is going to die,"' Hansen said Tuesday.

He said that Hatch is in great health and has no plans to either retire or die.

"He is the youngest 78-year-old you'll ever find," Hansen said.

Howell's campaign, meanwhile, defended the comments, citing Utah's overall average life expectancy of 78 years old.

"It's absolute reality," Howell campaign manager Emily Bingham Hollingshead said. "Age is a factor in this election."

According to the Senate Historical Office, the average age of senators in the current Congress is 61.5 years old. Hatch is one of 19 senators in their 70s. Three others -- Hawaii Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, as well as Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey-- are in their 80s.

About 13 percent of the nation is over age 65, about the same as the percentage of seniors in Utah, according to the Census Bureau.