The involvement of Mitt Romney in the 2018 Senate race has placed the campaign on the national radar. In Utah, leaders of the Republican, Democratic, and United Utah Parties view his involvement in different ways.
Romney is among Republican candidates vying to fill the senate vacancy that will be left by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Although he would be a freshman senator if elected, rumors abound he would be granted a significant degree of power virtually unheard of for incoming legislators.
“Orrin Hatch is probably the most powerful elected official Utah has ever had,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, in an interview with the blog From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring.
“However, Mitt Romney is already well-known and well-respected,” Perry added. “His experience in state and national politics will make him a formidable candidate and an influential freshman senator, especially with rumors that he may be selected as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.”
While an atypically powerful status likely awaits Romney should he win, there is a danger in assuming the race is already won.
“It’s an approach other big-name figures who’ve run for Senate have employed,” wrote Alex Isenstadt in a Politico article. “Don’t appear to be taking anything for granted or coasting on celebrity.”
Notwithstanding a purposeful approach, Romney’s campaign got off to a bumpy start with the Republican Party.
Chairman Rob Anderson made statements to the Salt Lake Tribune critical of Romney, but later apologized after speaking with Romney.
More than a month later, Anderson’s initial criticisms have given way to healthy praise.
“Mitt Romney is a well-known quantity,” Anderson said in a recent interview. “His past history as a successful businessman coupled with his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics, has created a positive image with Utahns.”
“It will be difficult for anyone to run a competitive race against him,” Anderson added.
Daisy Thomas disagrees.
Thomas is the chair of the Utah Democratic Party. An aspiring religious scholar-turned-politician who takes her three-month old baby to work with her, Thomas is less than keen on Romney or the Republican Party.
“I’m not sure I can name any Massachusetts governors who would be good representatives of Utah,” Thomas said in a recent interview when asked to say one positive thing about Romney. “The way Romney sucked up to (President Donald) Trump after positioning himself as a voice for decency makes him a bad representative not just of Utah, but of vertebrates in general.”
From Thomas’s perspective, Romney and other Republicans pale in comparison to how the eventual Democratic nominee will shine.
“We’re offering concrete, clear solutions to problems that Republicans have ignored,” said Thomas. “Expanded Medicaid. A living wage. The right to form or join a union. These aren’t just buzzwords or cheap political talk; they’re clear policies with a real impact on people’s lives.”
Richard Davis would likely agree with portions of the differing platforms backed by Anderson and Thomas.
Davis is chair of the United Utah Party and a BYU professor who has wanted to start a new political party for a long time. The extremism he saw within the Republican Party in the 2016 presidential election along with the arrogance he saw resulting from the Republican Party’s dominance in Utah led him to announce the formation of a new political party in May 2017.
“The United Utah Party wants to re-engage Utahns by offering a party that avoids the extremism of the two major parties (and) favors civility in political discourse rather than the toxic and personal rhetoric used by so many politicians today,” Davis said in a recent interview.
Buoyed by the success of independent Evan McMullin in the 2016 presidential election, the United Utah Party tried to make in its first U.S. Senate campaign.
“We have asked Mitt Romney if he would consider running on our ticket,” Davis said. “Considering how Republicans have treated him — and still treat him — we wondered why he would want to be a Republican.”
Romney is running on the Republican ticket, but Davis does not anticipate taking a negative approach to the campaign.
“We do not have an announced candidate for the United Utah Party for the U.S. Senate seat yet. When we do, his/her approach will not be to claim Romney would not be a good U.S. senator,” said Davis. “Rather, the main message will be that anyone who is elected from either of the two major parties will have to answer to party activists who are extreme.”
Romney has faced tension within his own party and will face challenges from Democrats, the United Utah Party and others if he secures the Republican primary.