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Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is now a Senate candidate in Utah — and the announcement of his candidacy shows he’s sensitive about being labeled a carpetbagger.
“Utah,” the Republican says at the beginning of a video he shared Friday morning on social media, “is admired not only for its beauty, but also for the character of its people. Utahns are known for hard work, innovation, and our can-do pioneering spirit. But more than these, we’re known as a people who serve, who care, and who rise to any occasion.”
It goes on like this for more than two minutes. One reporter joked on Twitter that he lost count of how many times Romney said “Utah.” The strategy telegraphed in recent days is clear and multipronged: Romney, who fell short in two previous White House bids and emerged as one of Donald Trump’s fiercest critics, is trying to persuade voters that he is laser-focused on his adopted state and not on the president or the job he’s pined for in the past.
Though on paper this should be a cakewalk — Romney is hardly a stranger in Utah, and Democrats have little chance of picking up the seat — two prominent Republicans have made an issue of Romney’s Trump-bashing and his relocation to the West. One of them, State Auditor John Dougall, told BuzzFeed News that GOP activists in and outside Utah have been encouraging him after he said this week that he was seriously considering challenging Romney.
“Some of the key things in Utah are that we want to make sure we have a senator who understands Utah issues, and those are clearly different than Massachusetts issues, for instance,” Dougall said Friday morning in a brief telephone interview.
Dougall added that Romney had called him Thursday evening to inform him of his imminent announcement, which has been anticipated since Sen. Orrin Hatch made his retirement plans known last month. “I wished him all the best,” Dougall said of Romney.
A Romney spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dougall declined to say who is encouraging him to run. But he suggested support would come from those concerned about electing someone who would not be aligned with Trump. For weeks on his Facebook page, Dougall has been arguing against a “coronation” of Romney.
“What we need is not somebody who doesn’t like the president,” Dougall told BuzzFeed News. “I think the key thing right now is folks need to know what he stands for.”
After the phone interview, Dougall added via email: “I should have also mentioned that ‘It's clear that Utahns have a very favorable view of Mr. Romney. The odds are strongly in his favor.’”
Earlier this week, Utah Republican Party Chair Rob Anderson noted Romney’s criticism of Trump and spoke dismissively of his Utah credentials in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune: “I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let’s face it, Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here.”
Anderson later apologized to Romney.
“I’ve no doubt that Mitt Romney satisfies all qualifications to run for Senate,” said Anderson in a Wednesday statement posted on Twitter, “and as chairman of the Utah Republican Party, I will treat all candidates equally to ensure their path to the party nomination is honest and fair.”