By John Celock
Seeking to join a rare club of being governor and senator from different states, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) announces Friday that he was seeking a U.S. Senate seat in Utah.
Romney used a video released on Twitter to confirm his long-anticipated entry into the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R). Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, becomes the instant frontrunner in a state where he has remained popular for his stewardship of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
“Given all that America faces we feel that this is the right time for me to serve our state and our country,” Romney said.
Romney, who served as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007, reenters electoral politics just over a year after President Donald Trump publicly considered him for secretary of state. Romney, who had not been a Trump supporter during the 2016 campaigned, had a highly publicized dinner meeting with Trump in New York prior to Trump picking Rex Tillerson for the secretary of state’s job.
Romney has emerged over the last several months as the likely Republican Senate candidate in Utah after it emerged that Hatch was considering retirement. Romney has largely split his time between Utah, California and Massachusetts since his 2012 defeat by President Barack Obama.
Romney used his announcement video to outline a priority list of focusing on balanced budgets, economic growth and immigration reform. Romney sought to position himself as the opposite of Trump, including noting a Utah belief that is welcoming of immigrants. He also sought to position himself as a senator who would self-fund his campaign and also would seek to lessen the partisan rancor in Washington.
“Utah is a better model for Washington than Washington is for Utah,” Romney said.
Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson is the presumptive Democratic nominee for the Senate seat.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, is currently the only defeated major party presidential nominee in the Senate. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee, was the last former presidential nominee to seek a Senate seat, when he unsuccessfully sought a Senate return in 2002 in Minnesota. Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, the 1968 Democratic presidential nominee and former senator, and former Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, were the last former major party presidential nominees to successfully seek open Senate seats after their presidential bids, both in 1970.
Romney would be one of only two former state governors to represent another state in the U.S. Senate. Former Alabama Gov. Walter Bibb, who represented Georgia in the Senate in the early 1800s. Bibb served as Alabama’s territorial governor before being elected as the state’s first governor. Sam Houston, had been Tennessee’s governor prior to becoming a senator from Texas in 1846. Houston later served as Texas governor.
Several other former senators served as appointed territorial governors of areas different from the states they represented in Washington.
The more common approach has been for former senators to seek Senate seats in other states with former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R) being the most recent, with his unsuccessful 2014 race for a Senate seat in New Hampshire. Brown is now the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa.
Romney, son of a former Michigan governor and prominent Mormon family, has long been popular in Utah. He was brought in to run the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics after scandals and management problems plagued the games. Romney’s turnaround of the Olympics helped raise his national profile and his popularity in Utah and helped launch his 2002 race for Massachusetts governor. Romney’s popularity from the Olympics helped push then Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift (R) out of the race.
Romney held the Massachusetts governorship for one term before he did not seek reelection in 2006 in order to concentrate on a 2008 presidential bid. During his tenure in Boston, Romney became known for his signature health care law and focus on economic development. Romney was also known for his presidential ambitions during his time as Massachusetts governor.
Prior to Romney’s decision to seek the governorship in Massachusetts, there had been reports of him seeking the governorship in Utah in 2004 based on his popularity from the Olympics.
In his announcement Friday, Romney sought to make his priority Utah not Massachusetts.
“Let there be no question, I will fight for Utah,” he said.