Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced Friday that he will run for Senate in Utah.
“I am running for United States Senate because in these trying times there is no better moment to bring Utah’s values to Washington,” Romney said in a statement. “Utah’s economic and political success is a model for our nation; I am ready to fight for this great state and advocate for solutions that improve the lives of Utahns.”
Romney was widely expected to run following Sen. Orrin G. Hatch’s announcement last month that he would retire after seven terms. The longtime senator had named Romney as a desired successor last year. Romney was expected to announce his Senate run on Thursday, but he postponed the announcement because of the mass shooting at a high school in Florida that left 17 dead.
In a two-minute video, Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and 2012 presidential nominee, emphasized his ties to Utah. He helped turn around the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City after a bribery scandal relating to the host city bidding process rocked the games. Romney was also the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major party. A majority of Utahans belong to the Mormon faith.
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Standing on the Olympic Oval in Utah, Romney, who is independently wealthy, pledged, “If you give me this opportunity I will owe this Senate seat to no one but the people of Utah. No donor, no corporation will own my campaign or bias my vote.”
“And let there be no question — I will fight for Utah,” he said.
Romney’s campaign noted in a press release that he will visit each of Utah’s 29 counties in the coming months. He also plans to use both tracks for getting on the ballot for the June primary: gathering signatures and participating in the state GOP convention, which has at times favored more conservative candidates.
Romney is expected to clear the GOP field in the race to succeed Hatch. But Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson sharply criticized Romney in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune this week.
“I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let’s face it, Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here,” Anderson said.
Anderson later said that he regretted the comments, according to KUTV. “I’ve no doubt that Mitt Romney satisfies all qualifications for Senate, and as Chairman of the Utah Republican Party, I will treat all candidates equally to ensure their path to the Party nomination is honest and fair,” he said in a statement.
A handful of candidates are competing for the Democratic nomination, but Salt Lake County Councilmember Jenny Wilson has led the field in fundraising.
Wilson came out swinging against Romney in a statement Wednesday ahead of Romney’s announcement.
“Utah needs an independent voice for our communities that are struggling, not a hand-picked candidate of the Washington establishment,” Wilson said in a statement. “Utah families deserve a Utahn as their senator, not a Massachusetts governor who thinks of our state as his vacation home.”
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Romney’s announcement also means that President Donald Trump could gain a critic in the Senate.
Romney recently criticized Trump’s characterization of nations in Africa and Haiti as “shithole countries” in an immigration meeting with lawmakers. Trump’s comments, first reported by The Washington Post, have been denounced by members of both parties, with Democrats calling the statements racist.
“The poverty of an aspiring immigrant’s nation of origin is as irrelevant as their race,” Romney tweeted following reports of the comments. “The sentiment attributed to POTUS is inconsistent w/ America’s history and antithetical to American values. May our memory of Dr. King buoy our hope for unity, greatness, & ‘charity for all.’”
In 2016, Romney was one of the few Republicans to publicly criticize Trump, then a candidate for president.
“If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished,” said in a scathing speech in March 2016, according to a transcript of his speech from The New York Times.
Romney went on to say that dishonesty was Trump’s “hallmark,” and that Trump was “a phony” and a “fraud.”
“His domestic policies would lead to recession. His foreign policies would make America and the world less safe,” Romney said. “He has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president and his personal qualities would mean that America would cease to be a shining city on a hill.”
Romney did meet with Trump after his election and was reported to be considered for his secretary of State.