Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) confirmed it yesterday: He is going to run for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.

"I'm going to do it," Hatch said in an interview with Reuters, adding that he plans to make a formal announcement in the next week to 10 days. "I'll be the longest of long shots," acknowledged Hatch, 65, a member of the Senate since 1977. "But don't ever underestimate Orrin Hatch."

Hatch made the comments as fellow Republicans prepared for a Capitol Hill meeting with the party's presidential front-runner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"I like George W. Bush," said Hatch, who showed up to greet the governor. "I like his parents. He seems to have it all. He's been a successful governor."

But Hatch said he wants to position himself as the alternative to Bush if the Texas governor should happen to stumble. "If something happens to George W. Bush, I don't know if we would have an alternative who could beat [Vice President] Al Gore."

While not voicing criticism of Bush, Hatch said, "I think it is time to have someone who is not beholden to the Republican establishment" and can work with Democrats and Republicans.

"I'm going to run because I'm tired of the divisiveness up here," Hatch said. "I think I can bring both sides together."

When Bush was asked about Hatch's statement that he would become a candidate to be available if the governor stumbled, he responded with a laugh, "That's an interesting vision." He then called Hatch "a good man," but quickly added, "I don't intend to stumble."

Bradley Talks of `Fresh Start' and `Trust'

In a not very indirect swipe at Vice President Gore, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley yesterday said voters in 2000 will be seeking a "fresh start" after the scandals of the Clinton administration.

"Any time a public official lies, he undermines his own party and squanders the public trust," Bradley said, elaborating on a response he had given earlier to a Democratic voter who described himself as "disgusted" with President Clinton and determined to vote against Gore.

"You sound like you want a fresh start," Bradley, who was campaigning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told the man. "I understand that. One of the reasons I'm out here is to try to offer people what I believe and where I would like to take the country, in hopes they would like the future I describe as opposed to the one the vice president might describe."

Speaking to a gathering at a Boys and Girls Club, Bradley said his goal is to "repair that trust" between citizens and their government.

The Clinton sex controversies are risky terrain for a Democratic challenger in Iowa because loyalty to Clinton among the party activists who turn out at presidential nominating caucuses remains high. Open criticism of Clinton can easily backfire, according to Democratic strategists in the state.

Bradley insisted that he was "not making any comment about the vice president whatsoever. . . . What I need to do is take care of what I believe and what I want to do, and this is not a time to get into potshots against the vice president for what he did or did not do."

Asked if Gore was capable of inspiring trust despite his ties to the administration, Bradley said: "I don't see any reason why he doesn't. I don't know anything now that leads me to believe he doesn't."

McCain Outlines Plan for Major Tax Cuts

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) added a major tax-cutting plan to his portfolio of issues yesterday, telling an audience in Columbia, S.C., he would try to reduce rates quickly for some 23 million middle- income families and individuals. The GOP presidential hopeful proposed slashing their tax bills by raising the income ceiling for the minimum 15 percent tax bracket from $25,350 to $35,000 for single taxpayers and from $42,350 to $70,000 for married couples.

McCain's plan also would address the so-called marriage penalty by increasing the standard deduction for joint filers by 20 percent a year until it is twice the deduction for individual taxpayers. He would eliminate the gift and estate tax, end the provision that reduces Social Security benefits as outside earnings increase and make small amounts of retirees' dividends and interest tax-exempt.

McCain's staff said the cost of the entire package is estimated at $161 billion over five years. A spokesman said McCain was prepared to identify about $150 billion of offsetting savings from closing tax "loopholes" and from vetoing "wasteful, pork-barrel programs." Any additional offsets would come from the projected budget surplus, with the proviso that 62 percent of that surplus be set aside, as the president has proposed, to bolster Social Security.

McCain said a flat tax, such as Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes has proposed, is beyond reach at this point.

Staff writers Thomas B. Edsall in Iowa and David S. Broder contributed to this report.

CAPTION: Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) plans to make a formal announcement soon of his presidential candidacy. "If something happens to George W. Bush, I don't know if we would have an alternative who could beat Al Gore," he said.