The Slatest

Mitt Romney Finally Announces Utah Senate Campaign

Mitt Romney waves as he leaves the stage at the Silicon Slopes Tech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Mitt Romney waves as he leaves the stage at the Silicon Slopes Tech Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. George Frey/Getty Images

In a move that surprised absolutely no one, Mitt Romney announced this morning via video that he will run for the Utah Senate seat Orrin Hatch plans to vacate in 2019. Given Utah’s ruby-red politics and Romney’s massive popularity in the state, it’s considered a foregone conclusion that the former Massachusetts governor will become the next senator from Utah.

Romney, the Republican nominee for president in 2012, has been not-so-subtly foreshadowing his candidacy ever since Hatch announced last month that he would not seek re-election after 41 long years in the Senate. That same day, Romney changed his Twitter location from “Massachusetts” to “Holladay, UT,” a suburb of Salt Lake City.

Romney’s relatively new residency seems unlikely to blunt the enthusiasm for the country’s most prominent Mormon politician in the heavily Mormon state, though at least one party official appears not to be fully sold on his candidacy. Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here,” before publicly apologizing for the remark.

In his announcement video, Romney labored to demonstrate his ties to the Beehive State and touted his involvement in organizing the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. While two other Republican candidates plan to participate in the party’s caucus and convention, most prominent Utah politicians have embraced Romney, whom Governor Gary Herbert calls “our favorite adopted son.”

Romney, who pointedly criticized President Trump in a 2016 speech and has voiced his disapproval of Trump’s conduct on Twitter despite cozying up to the president during an interview to become Secretary of State, didn’t make any direct references to Trump in his announcement. He did, however, take a jab at the lack of progress on DACA protections on the Hill, saying, “Utah welcomes immigrants from around the world. Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”

Nevertheless, Politico reports that Romney plans a “hyperlocal” campaign and won’t position himself directly in opposition to Trump, though he is expected to be considerably less solicitous of the president than Hatch. A January 2018 YouGov/Economist poll showed that 37 percent of Americans expect Romney will oppose Trump in the Senate, and, unlike fellow Mormon Jeff Flake, he’ll have a base support to do so. Romney won every single county in Utah in 2012, and a poll by the Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics projected him to win 64 percent of the vote over Democratic Salt Lake City councilwoman Jenny Wilson.

While Romney starts collecting signatures, the Senate will prepare to say goodbye to Hatch, who is currently its longest-serving Republican. Out with the old, in with Willard Mitt Romney.