Mitt Romney must face a primary – but he will still go to Washington

The Republican presidential candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, will have to participate in a primary contest to be the party’s candidate for the outgoing Orrin Hatch’s Utah Senate seat. Romney failed to secure the 60% of the party’s delegates needed to secure the nomination outright at the Republican’s Utah convention, and in fact came second in that vote, losing by nearly 2% to doctor and lawyer Mike Kennedy.

Mike Kennedy, a three-term state representative, won 50.18% of the vote, compared to Romney’s 49.12%. Kennedy put his victory down to Romney being an “interloper” in Utah politics, saying ‘we need a candidate who’s actually lived, worked and raised a family in the State of Utah.’ Kennedy had indeed only raised just over $289,000, compared to Mitt Romney’s $1.68 million.

But Romney dismissed Kennedy’s underdog narrative. ‘Some people I’ve spoken with said this is a David vs. Goliath race, but they’re wrong. I’m not Goliath. Washington, D.C., is goliath.’ But 1.68 million dollars makes Romney the heavy favourite. Couple this with his national profile and the fact that Romney had collected over 28,000 signatures in support of his campaign, something the delegates to the convention dislike, as they feel it dilutes their power to choose, and Romney is looking ever more like the Republican candidate-in-waiting. And of course, Romney wouldn’t want it to be David vs. Goliath. In that case, David wins.

But in this case, Goliath will win, and as much as Romney will play down his resources, Kennedy is out funded and up against a man who nearly became president. Kennedy’s win in the convention was more down to disgruntled delegates, and his argument that Romney is an interloper will have much more traction with those at the convention, who are more heavily involved in Utah politics, than it will with the average voter, who will see Romney as a national figure.

Once Romney has dispatched Mike Kennedy, he is sure to win the Senate seat against his Democratic challenger. The Cook Political Report rates the seat as a safe Republican hold, as does the Rothenberg Political Report. And a poll taken by UtahPolicy.com in February has Romney on 60 points, 46 ahead of Democrat Jenny Wilson. Mike Kennedy didn’t feature.

So, once Romney reaches Washington, what will his plan be? His relationship with President Donald Trump has been fraught. In the 2016 election, Romney dismissed Trump as ‘a phony, a fraud.’ He went on to say ‘[Trump’s] promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.’ But once the election was over, and once Trump was on his way to the White House, Romney’s stance softened.

He had dinner with incoming-President Trump, and was mentioned as a potential candidate for Trump’s Secretary of State. President Trump has also endorsed Romney’s campaign for the Senate, which Romney accepted, but Romney has been much more cautious when asked if he will endorse Trump in 2020: ‘As a person of political experience, if I endorse someone, I’ll want to know what’s in it for Utah and what help would he provide for us on key priorities in Utah, I’m not a cheap date.’

So the relationship when the two eventually meet again in Washington is likely to be uneasy. Romney’s profile never completely dimmed after 2012, and now he will be in the news once again, the Trump team will no doubt want his support for the Trump 2020 campaign. But this support, whether it is related to what Utah will get from Trump or not, may be something that does not come. If Trump has some strong primary challengers, which, as a particularly divisive president, he is likely to have, expect them to be courting Mitt Romney too.

Photo Credit: Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune.