Mitt Romney, who dithered for months about whether to run for the GOP Senate nomination in Utah, finished second at the state Republican convention to a little-known state representative.
Romney trailed state Rep. Mike Kennedy 50.88% to 49.12% after the final round of voting. The two will now compete in a June primary that will determine who will face a Democratic sacrificial lamb. No Democrat has won a Senate seat in Utah since 1977.
Saturday’s defeat was a surprising turn for Romney, whose national profile far exceeds Kennedy’s and who could count on a strong donor network and the endorsement of prominent Republicans, including Hatch and President Trump.
When he made his bid official, Romney was considered a virtual lock for the GOP nomination and was not expected to face a serious primary challenger.
Kennedy was first elected to the Utah state House in 2012.
Romney’s Senate bid, in contrast, is only the latest step in a long political career.
A former Massachusetts governor, he ran for president in both 2008 and 2012. He failed to secure the nomination his first time, losing to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but won the GOP contest in 2012. He fell to former President Obama in the general election.
In 2016, Romney made waves again when he urged Republicans to oppose Trump. He called Trump a “fraud” who lacked the character to be president.
After Trump’s election there was a brief thaw as the two dined publicly and Romney was floated as a potential secretary of State. But Romney was passed up for the post, which went to Rex Tillerson.
Romney has since criticized the president over a number of issues, including his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Whether Trump endorses either candidate will be interesting. Kennedy’s strength at the convention is indicative of the currents of change moving through the Republican Party.
But even Kennedy supporters have to admit it’s an uphill slog for the candidate to beat Romney, who will be well funded and have a top-flight organization.
Stranger things have happened in Utah. Former Senator Bob Bennett was defeated by current Senator Mike Lee at the state GOP convention in 2010, despite a Romney endorsement. Utah Republicans have shown an independent streak, so Romney — the quintessential establishment member — should beware.
The Republican Party of Donald Trump has passed Mitt Romney by. His brand of moderate politics is poison for most Republican activists and even with Romney’s massive advantages, the June primary is likely to be a lot closer than many would predict.