Further enforcing the belief that Mitt Romney will run for U.S. Senate in Utah — and win — outgoing Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, announced he would get behind a Romney candidacy.
“There’s no question that he loves Utah and wants to support Utah anyway he can. And I’m hopeful he’ll run because he would be just fine,” the 83-year-old senator said Wednesday in a radio interview on Utah’s Morning News program.
“And he would certainly be somebody who I think could succeed me into the job,” Hatch said. “We haven’t spoken in the last few days, but if Mitt decides to run, he knows he’ll have my support.”
The comments come after Hatch announced Tuesday that he would not be running for re-election in 2018, but instead retire after seven terms in the Senate.
“Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching,” Hatch 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,” he added.
Serving over 40 years in Congress, Hatch holds the distinction of being the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, leaving behind a storied career of legislative achievements.
“I’m deeply grateful for the privilege you’ve given me to serve as your senator these last four decades,” he went on. “I may be leaving the Senate, but my next chapter in public service is just beginning.”
Months before he made his retirement official, there was rampant speculation about Hatch’s plans. Not wanting him to appear as a lame duck senator before crucial legislative votes in Congress, staffers in Hatch’s office denied reports last year that the senior senator from Utah had personally spoken to Romney about taking his seat — reports that appeared to keep piling on.
Romney would undoubtedly perform well in a statewide election in The Beehive State.
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 is not only the first Mormon to run on a major-party presidential ticket, but he is also credited with personally saving the 2002 Winter Olympics, held in Salt Lake City, after becoming president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
As a testament to his popularity, polling indicates that a general election match-up in Utah 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.
As Romney would likely trounce any Democrat in a statewide election, the real question is who will oppose him in the GOP primary.
Such an effort may come from the White House.
In the run-up to Hatch’s retirement announcement, President Donald Trump heavily lobbied him to run for re-election instead. Trump, knowing full well what would happen should Hatch vacate his seat, did not see him going anywhere.
“I wouldn’t say he begged me to stay, but it came close to that,” Hatch said of Trump asking him to remain in the Senate.
Amid the 2016 presidential election, Romney came out hard against then-candidate Trump, calling him a “phony” and a “fraud.” The relationship between the two men never really recovered in the months that followed.
As a former Republican presidential nominee and a former governor, Romney still holds much influence within the GOP and could potentially become the face of the “Never Trump” movement within conservative circles if he were elected to the U.S. Senate.
With Hatch ignoring the president’s advice and announcing retirement, it’s not entirely clear yet what influence the White House will exert in Utah.
For his part, it appears Romney is already making campaign moves. On the same day as Hatch’s announcement, the Republican politician switched his Twitter location from “Massachusetts” to “Holladay, Utah.”
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