With Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on his way out the door, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney appears all but certain to jump in the race to replace him.
Igniting further speculation that he will run, Romney updated his Twitter location to reflect a Utah residence immediately following Hatch’s retirement announcement.
While the move makes his Twitter location official, the former Massachusetts governor had long been taking residence in Utah and was already registered to vote in the state, according to The Washington Post.
The Republican relocated to the Beehive State following his 2012 loss to then-President Barack Obama, where he has since contemplated his next big move on the political stage.
The state is extremely friendly territory for Romney, the country’s most well-known Mormon.
A Republican bastion and the undisputed headquarters of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney is revered by the people of Utah. The 2012 Republican presidential nominee saw his highest margin of victory here, winning the state that year with over 72 percent of the vote.
Romney also earned local adoration when he took the helm on the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, with many considering that his leadership saved the beleaguered event.
Given his closeness to the Mormon community and ability to easily self-fund a statewide campaign, most pundits agree a 2018 Senate run would be Romney’s to lose.
Sen. Hatch did not surprise many when he announced Tuesday that he would not run for re-election this year and instead would retire at the end of the year. The news came after months of speculation that he would be vacating his seat.
“Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching,” he said in a video posted on his Twitter account.
“That’s why after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I’ve decided to retire at the end of this term.”
The 83-year-old earns the distinction as the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history and will walk away with a monumental legacy of legislative achievements.
Of course, the likeliest contender to replace Hatch offered his congratulations on a storied career in Congress.
A general election match-up in Utah, a GOP stronghold, would be easy pickings for Romney. The Salt Lake Tribune commissioned a recent poll showing Romney besting his likeliest general election opponent by huge margins, taking in 64 percent of the vote to Democrat Jenny Wilson’s, a Salt Lake City Council member, 26 percent.
Romney, however, could face a strong challenge in the general election. Former White House senior adviser Steve Bannon has expressed interest in orchestrating a primary battle against the man he considers a moderate member of the “establishment.”
Interestingly, the biggest push-back the 2012 Republican presidential nominee has received has come from the White House.
Amid the 2016 GOP primary, Romney was an early and ardent critic of then-candidate Donald Trump, even going so far as to call the real estate mogul a “fraud.”
While the relationship did appear to thaw after president-elect Trump considered Romney for the secretary of state position, the current White House clearly has clearly shown disdain at a possible Romney Senate run.
The fear would be that Romney, having been the defacto leader of the GOP once before, would serve as a leader of the opposition to the president among Republican “never Trumpers.”
Following reports that Hatch was considering retirement, President Donald Trump had actively lobbied him to run for re-election, having done so publicly at Utah events. It did appear that Hatch gave considerable thought to running for an eighth term.
The longtime senator, however, finally decided it was time to hang up the gloves.
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