Saturday 7 December 2019

Mitt Romney confirms bid for Utah Senate seat

The Republican said his adopted home state ‘welcomes legal immigrants from around the world’.

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

By Michelle L Price and Bill Barrow

Former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is running for a Utah Senate seat, officially launching his comeback attempt by praising his adopted home state as a model for an acrimonious national government.

Having been one of the Republican Party’s fiercest internal critics of Donald Trump, Mr Romney did not explicitly mention the administration or the president himself in a campaign announcement posted online.

The closest allusion to Mr Trump was a claim that Utah “welcomes legal immigrants from around the world” while “Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion”.

Mr Romney, 70, will be the heavy favourite for the Senate seat being opened by senator Orrin Hatch’s retirement. Mr Hatch was among the first Republicans to pitch Mr Romney as his potential successor.

Leading up to the widely anticipated announcement, confidantes said Mr Romney intends to focus his campaign on Utah, where he moved with his wife Ann after losing the 2012 presidential election to Barack Obama.

“Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in Washington,” Mr Romney said in his announcement, noting that “on Utah’s Capitol Hill, people treat one another with respect”.

The former Massachusetts governor and wealthy business executive would go to Capitol Hill with a higher profile than a typical freshman senator.

That reality was made clear by immediate reactions to his announcement from across the political spectrum.

House speaker Paul Ryan, whom Mr Romney tapped as his vice presidential running mate in 2012, immediately hailed his old partner’s “unparalleled experience, conservative leadership and lifetime of service”.

Democrats, despite not yet offering any credible threat to Republican dominance in Utah, answered with a scathing rebuke, dismissing Mr Romney’s periodic criticisms of Mr Trump.

“Mitt Romney desperately wants to separate himself from the extremism of the current administration,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Vedant Patel in a statement, but “the basic policies of Trump’s GOP … were his before they were Donald Trump’s”.

As he did in two presidential campaigns, Mr Romney’s announcement highlights his stewardship of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He is respected in the state for taking over the troubled games amid planning and financial disarray.

Supporters describe him as a “favourite son” of Utah. He is a Brigham Young University graduate who went on to become the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party. About 60% of Utah’s residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Some Utah Republicans may still question whether the one-time abortion rights supporter is too much of an outsider or too moderate for their tastes, but he is not expected to face any serious primary or general election challenge.

Donald Trump and Mitt Romney in 2016 (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

He attracted headlines in 2016 when he delivered a biting speech denouncing Mr Trump, calling him a “phony” who was unfit for office.

For his part, Mr Trump has said Mr Romney “choked like a dog” in his failed presidential bids in 2012 and four years earlier, when he lost the Republican nomination to John McCain.

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