Mitt Romney cruises to victory in Utah GOP Senate primary

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney cruised to victory in Utah’s GOP Senate primary Tuesday, making him the strong favorite to replace Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), who announced his retirement this year after over 40 years of service in the upper chamber.  

Romney, the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2012, bested state Rep. Mike Kennedy, who, despite Romney’s commanding lead in the polls, forced Romney into a runoff after delegates at the state’s Republican convention in April awarded Kennedy a narrow victory.

Accusations of carpetbagging dogged Romney for much of the campaign. Though Romney is very popular in the state, owing both to his work on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and his status as the country’s most well-known Mormon politician (over 50 percent of Utah’s population identifies as Mormon), his opponents were quick to point out his out-of-state background.

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Mitt Romney through the years
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Mitt Romney through the years
Mitt Romney campaigning for US Senate against Senator Ted Kennedy in Boston, MA in 1994. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)
2008 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) in an archive family photo with his father George (C) and his brother Scott in 1965, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
2008 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an archive family photo with his now wife Ann Davis in 1964. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
US Senate candidate Mitt Romney speaking at senior center in Chelsea, MA in 1994. Romney is challenging Senator Ted Kennedy. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)
2008 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an archive family photo at age 11, in 1958. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
2008 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an archive family photo with his father George in their Michigan family home in 1957. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
Mitt Romney, candidate for US Senate from MA, with his wife Ann Romney after receiving the endorsement of the Boston Police Patrolman's Association in Boston, MA in October 24,1994. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY - FEBRUARY 9: Mitt Romney, Chairman of the Salt Lake City Olympics Organizing Committee on the first night at the Medals Ceremonies in The Medals Plaza. (Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
399749 01: Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) President and CEO Mitt Romney speaks about the upcoming 2002 Olympic Winter Games at a press conference January 16, 2002 at SLOC Headquarters in Salt Lake City, UT. The winter games begin February 8, 2002. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
8 Feb 2002: President and CEO of SLOC Mitt Romney chats with President George W. Bush during the Opening Ceremony at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Harry How/Getty Images
BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11: Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney listens to a reporter's question during a news conference prior to the legislature's Constitutional Convention to consider a proposed amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman February 11, 2004 in Boston, Massachusetts. The proposed amendment, supported by Governor Mitt Romney, was drafted in response to a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage constitutional. (Photo by Michael Springer/Getty Images)
BOSTON - DECEMBER 17: On the way to Revere to hold a press conference about housing, Gov. Mitt Romney enjoys his ride on the Blue Line. (Photo by Janet Knott/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
HOLYOKE - JANUARY 9: Eighth grade student Tirsa Romero at the John J. Lynch Middle School sits behind Gov. Mitt Romney and State Education Commissioner David Driscoll, left, as they view a video that the governor brought to show the 400 students that gathered for his appearance. The governor talked to the students about the choices you make in life and the video was about Olympic Gold Medal skier Janica Kostelic, of Croatia, and how she over came injuries and the dedication she had to her training that rewarded her with a Gold Medal at the Utah Olympics. (Photo by Tom Landers/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON - JULY 3: Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney shakes hands with members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir prior to their rehearsal for the 4th of July show at the Hatch Shell Thursday evening. (Photo by David Kamerman/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Republican Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney campaigning with his wife Anne Romney at the Granite Oath PAC's 2011 Presidential Candidate Reception at the home of Ovide and Bettie Lamontagne in Manchester, NH on August 12, 2011 (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)
Republican Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney campaigning with his wife Anne Romney at the Granite Oath PAC's 2011 Presidential Candidate Reception at the home of Ovide and Bettie Lamontagne in Manchester, NH on August 12, 2011 (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)
GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann greet supporters at a campaign rally after the conclusion of the Iowa Caucuses in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images)
GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney speaks to supporters as his wife Ann and four of his five sons watch at a campaign rally after the conclusion of the Iowa Caucuses in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speaks after receiving the endorsement of former primary rival Mitt Romney, right, at Romney's campaign headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts February 14, 2008. Romney asked his 200-plus delegates to vote for McCain at the Republican convention this summer. REUTERS/Neal Hamberg (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Former Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during the third session of the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota September 3, 2008. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) laughs with his grandson Parker Mitt Romney, 18 months, as he campaigns at the William D. Ford Senior Center in Taylor, Michigan January 13, 2008. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES) US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN 2008 (USA)
Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich share a laugh during a break in the Republican presidential candidates debate in Charleston, South Carolina, January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally in West Des Moines, Iowa December 30, 2011, ahead of the Iowa Caucus on January 3, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann gather before the start of their debate in Ames, Iowa August 11, 2011 REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney holds a baby in the audience at a campaign stop at Centro Incorporated in North Liberty, Iowa December 28, 2011. The Iowa Caucus will be held on January 3, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) introduces U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his vice-presidential running mate during a campaign event at the retired battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia, August 11, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum speaks as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) looks on during the Republican presidential candidates debate in Mesa, Arizona, February 22, 2012. REUTERS/Joshua Lott (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney kisses his wife Ann at his Illinois primary night rally in Schaumburg, Illinois, March 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney hands Madison Busch, 1, to her mother after a campaign event at an RV dealer in Loveland, Colorado February 7, 2012. The Colorado caucuses take place today. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama speak directly to each other during the second U.S. presidential debate in Hempstead, New York, October 16, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) and vice-presidential nominee U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) wave to the crowd at a campaign rally in Fishersville, Virginia October 4, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (L) shakes hands with President Barack Obama at the start of the first 2012 U.S. presidential debate in Denver October 3, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney watches the Vice Presidential debate in his hotel room in Asheville, North Carolina October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney waves as he arrives onstage to accept the nomination during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, August 30, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: ELECTIONS POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Former Republican U.S. presidential nominee Mitt Romney criticizes current Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a speech at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former Massachusetts Governor and two-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) and five-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield stare down during their weigh-in before their boxing match in Holladay, Utah May 14, 2015. The two will box on Friday to benefit the medical charity CharityVision. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney after their meeting at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump sits at a table for dinner with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (R) and his choice for White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (L) at Jean-Georges at the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York, U.S., November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looks up at people waving to him from an open window after meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at the main clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 18: Former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney attends the game between the Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz on October 18, 2017 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks after a dinner meeting with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump at Jean-Georges inside of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York, U.S., November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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“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,” Rob Anderson, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, said in a February interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.

During one debate, Kennedy, a doctor and lawyer by trade, used his opening statement to “welcome” Romney to the state.

Romney’s relationship with President Donald Trump was also under the microscope, with Kennedy accusing Romney of not being a forceful enough supporter of the commander-in-chief’s agenda. Many delegates at the state Republican convention accused Romney of being a “RINO” ― a “Republican in name only.”  

Romney has had a bumpy relationship with Trump. As a presidential candidate in 2012, Romney actively sought Trump’s support, resulting in a crucial endorsement from the real estate mogul during the tail end of the Republican primary. Yet by the 2016 election, Romney’s public statements on Trump had become much more critical.

“Here’s what I know: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said in a highly publicized speech during the 2016 presidential campaign. “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing members of the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House, and all we get is a lousy hat.”

Tension between the two had subsided enough by Trump’s victory in November 2016 that the then-president-elect strongly considered naming Romney his secretary of state. Though Trump ultimately nominated Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to the post, Trump endorsed Romney in this year’s primary, tweeting that the candidate would “make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch.”

However, Romney’s relationship to Trump, and the widespread expectation that he would not be a lockstep supporter of the president, defined the final days of the primary campaign, with Romney giving conflicting clues about his intentions vis-a-vis the commander-in-chief.

In an op-ed published Sunday in The Salt Lake Tribune, Romney wrote that he would not be adverse to criticizing the president. 

“People ask me why I feel compelled to express my disagreements with the president. I believe that when you are known as a member of a ‘team,’ and the captain says or does something you feel is morally wrong, if you stay silent you tacitly assent to the captain’s posture,” Romney wrote. “I appreciate the argument made by those who believe we should stay silent, but I cannot subscribe to it.” 

However, in an interview with The Associated Press published late last week, Romney refused to say whether he agreed with President Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy that has dominated headlines for several weeks and has separated thousands of children from their families ― a development Romney called “a heartbreaking circumstance” that “puts America in a terrible light around the world.” 

Having cinched the Republican nomination, Romney now faces off against Democratic nominee Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake City councilwoman. Wilson has run on a platform focused on reducing tax loopholes for the wealthy and more generally shifting the tax burden from working people to the rich.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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