Mitt Romney is in.
On Friday, the former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate announced his campaign for Senate in 2018 to take over retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch’s seat, saying he wants to bring “Utah values” to Washington.
Romney, a Mormon political leader, has been a longtime favorite for the seat, since the 83-year-old Senate veteran Hatch was rumored to retire. Romney’s family has ties to the state, and he is personally credited with righting the struggling organizing committee tasked with bringing the Olympic Games to Salt Lake City in 2002.
“Mitt Romney is royalty here in the state of Utah,” Utah’s Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, told Vox. “And I can tell you the polling numbers we’ve seen over the past two years, he’s still the most popular politician in the state of Utah.”
Romney was a prominent anti-Trump voice in the election (later meeting with Trump for the secretary of state job), but he didn’t mention the president once in his announcement video. Utah is a deeply red state with strong religious values, and it didn’t have much of a taste for Trump or Steve Bannon’s worldviews in the 2016 election cycle. The president received less than 50 percent of the vote on Election Day.
Instead, Romney’s message made subtle jabs at the administration and Republican-led government, decrying overrun government spending, and — in light of a recent failed immigration debate in the Senate — censuring Washington’s “message of exclusion” toward immigrants.
“Utah has balanced its budgets, Washington is buried in debt,” Romney said. “Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world, Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion. And on Utah’s Capitol Hill, people treat one another with respect.”
It’s been rumored that Romney, who once made headlines calling for Trump’s tax returns, will tone down his rhetoric against the administration.
“Mitt Romney understands something about President Trump: Trump is 100 percent transactional and not relational … As a business person he understands the nature of being transactional.” Boyd Matheson, who was formerly Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) chief of staff, said. People shouldn’t expect a “Romney/Trump cage match,” he added.
Even so, Utah is a uniquely red state. It has both an anti-establishment streak that elected Lee and strong establishment ties, which Hatch largely represented. The voters have no patience for Trump’s Twitter antics or “locker room talk” — there was even a slight decline in Mormons affiliating with the Republican Party during Trump’s nomination. And on immigration, Mormon voters much more dovish than the immigration hardliners currently shaping the debate in Washington.
But Utah is also a reliably conservative state that has historically followed the Republican Party’s platform from cutting taxes to repealing health care.
“I don’t know if I see a Sen. Romney vote that different than Sen. Hatch or the rest of Utah’s delegation,” Cox said. “It’s a very conservative state, and I think Mitt Romney, at least through his last presidential run, the policy that he advocated for will be very similar.”