Zara Kulish, Staff Writer
Mitt Romney is back in the political sphere after his 2012 bid for the presidency. Since 2012, Romney has been loosely involved in politics, speaking up when he felt it was necessary. Romney warned Republican primary voters against electing Donald Trump in 2016, and was also considered a possible “unity choice” to be Secretary of State under Trump for the purposes of uniting the party. Romney’s break from politics ended this February, when he officially announced a bid to replace retiring Republican Senator, Orrin Hatch of Utah, who has served as President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate since 2015. While Romney is not a native of Utah, he has a strong following in the state, which is largely Mormon, and home to the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University, named after Romney’s father. Additionally, Romney has always had a large presence in Utah, dating back to his role in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
In the announcement, Romney said that he is running for the Senate because he believes that he can “bring Utah’s values and Utah’s lessons to Washington.” His vocal opposition to Trump has garnered him support from Democrats, which if elected, bodes well for his chances at the across-the-aisle collaboration that we need to make progress — increasing bipartisan cooperation was even one of the reasons he gave for running. Romney avoided any direct shots at the president in his announcement on Feb. 16, but he did say that 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.” His message was focused on opportunities for Utah, and what his state could do for the nation, going so far as to say that “Utah is a better model for Washington than Washington is for Utah.” If he is elected, Romney’s center-right positioning could help the Republican Party to find direction again in these increasingly polarized times.
The 2018 midterm election is not expected to be a particularly tough one for Romney, because he is already enormously popular in Utah. In addition to deep connections with the Mormon church in Utah, he helped the state overcome a bribery scandal surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Former Utah Governor Michael Leavitt, who advised Romney during his first presidential campaign in 2008, said that Romney “has a center-right philosophy that is quite consistent with the main stream of Utah.” The road to Washington is not, however, without obstacles for Romney. Before Romney had even announced his run for the open seat, his most likely opponent, Democratic Salt Lake County Council member, Jenny Wilson, spoke about Romney as someone with a fundamental misunderstanding of the people of Utah.
“Utah needs an independent voice for our communities that are struggling, not a hand-picked candidate of the Washington establishment… Utah families deserve a Utahn as their senator, not a Massachusetts governor who thinks of our state as his vacation home.”
Despite his popularity, there is still some dissent among Republicans. Don Guymon, a member of the Utah Republican Party Executive Committee, expressed concern that due to some recent changes in Utah’s election system, people would assume that Romney is the nominee, not giving a chance to lesser known candidates. In addition, he was worried about some more liberal positions that Romney has held in the past, on issues like abortion. “Mitt’s had various positions over the years, so what are we getting? Which Mitt are we getting? He’s never held a town hall and answered questions from Utah citizens yet.” Though it is not yet clear what he will focus on if he gets elected, he has been addressing controversial issues such as global warming and expanding legal immigration, which appeal to the more centrist citizens of Utah.