Orrin Hatch vs. Scott Howell: Opponent says Hatch might 'die before his term' ends

(CNN) -- Don't vote for Orrin Hatch, the six-term senator's opponent says.

Why? Because, Democratic candidate Scott Howell says in a fundraising letter, he could "die before his term is through."

After the letter, obtained by CNN affiliate KTVX, made headlines there, Howell and his campaign doubled down on their age-related criticism of the 78-year-old Utah Republican incumbent.

Hatch's race is considered solidly in his column by the non-partisan political watchers the Cook Political Report and Rothenberg Political Report.

Earlier this season, he defeated a primary challenge from a former state senator Dan Liljenquist after failing by a few dozen votes (out of 4,000) to shut down the challenge at the state party convention in April.

That primary race saw its own attention-grabbing stunts, including Liljenquist's announcement that he would debate a cardboard cutout of Hatch, after Hatch agreed only to a radio debate and no television match ups.

In the fund-raising note to supporters obtained by KTVX, Howell says, "Orrin Hatch is not a bad guy. But he is an old guy."

He continued in a phone interview with the station, "Orrin Hatch needs the golden handshake now. It's time we give him a nice watch and we send him on his way."

Hatch's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, told KTVX in an interview that the comments were offensive, and of Howell, "He's got a campaign that's going nowhere, nobody knows who he is. "

Should he be reelected, Hatch has said that a seventh term in the Senate would be his last.

The U.S. Constitution sets no age of retirement for members of the Senate, but does stipulate that senators must be at least 30 years old.
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