WASHINGTON — Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that he has reached out to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney about possibly running for the Senate, if a vacancy opens in Utah.
There has been much speculation about whether seven-term Republican Senator Orrin Hatch will retire instead of running for reelection next year. Hatch, 83, has fueled some of it, saying on Friday that he suggested McConnell reach out to the former governor of Massachusetts.
‘‘I’m planning on running, but if I for some reason withdrew, I’d be thrilled if Mitt Romney would be willing to consider it,’’ Hatch said. ‘‘He’s a big supporter, he and his whole family.’’
Hatch has been in office since 1977, making him the most senior Republican in the Senate. He chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee and, as president pro tem of the Senate, is third in line to succeed the president.
McConnell made it clear that he would support Hatch if he wants to run again. And Romney has said he would only run with Hatch’s blessing.
McConnell told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference, ‘‘I’ve had some conversations with Mitt Romney. Obviously, I’m an Orrin Hatch supporter. Orrin has to decide what he wants to do. If he wants to run again, I’m for him.’’
Hatch has a résumé thick with legislative victories. A conservative with a reputation for working with Democrats, Hatch was close friends with the late Senator Ted Kennedy, the liberal Democrat from Massachusetts.
In reaching out to Romney, Hatch said he is trying to prevent a divisive Utah primary over his successor. In 2010, Hatch’s good friend, the late senator Robert Bennett of Utah, was ousted by Tea Party favorite Senator Mike Lee.
‘‘I wouldn’t want that to happen again,’’ Hatch said. ‘‘If [Romney] ran, I would hope that everybody would get behind him. He’d be excellent.’’