Mitt Romney signaled that he is moving toward a run for a US Senate seat from Utah, tweeting Thursday that he will make a formal announcement about his plans on February 15.
“Looking forward to making an announcement on February 15th about the Utah Senate race,” he tweeted.
Romney’s intention to run for the seat of retiring Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is an open secret in the state, but he’s not expected to formally announce his bid until later this month, according to several sources close to the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
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While Romney has been quietly talking to potential aides in Utah, the tweet will allow him to hire a staff and make preparations more openly – while also courting the conservative delegates who control the Utah GOP’s nominating convention.
Romney has two possible paths to Utah’s primary ballot: he can collect 28,000 signatures from registered Republicans statewide, or he can seek the nomination at the Republican Party’s convention in April.
Because of his high profile and his criticisms of President Donald Trump, the convention carries risk for Romney. The ideologically pure delegates have sometimes taken a contrarian view of the state’s favored candidates.
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In 2016, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was defeated by libertarian Jonathan Johnson, the Overstock chairman, at the convention despite strong approval ratings across the state. Herbert ultimately won re-election with 66.7% of the vote in November 2016.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who established Utah as his primary residence in 2014, is enormously popular in the state. He and his wife, Ann, attended college at Brigham Young University, and they have long owned a home in Park City.
The couple lived in their Park City home full time between 1999 and 2002 when Romney was recruited to help rescue the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic games, which were mired in a bribery scandal.
Beyond the deep well of admiration for Romney among Utah voters for his role in making the Olympic games a success as the president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake City Olympic Organizing Committee, he also shares a kinship with fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who make up more than 55% of the state’s population, according to surveys by the Pew Forum.
In a recent poll, The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics found that Romney would win 64% of the vote in a general election matchup against the likely Democratic nominee Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County Council member who notched the support of 19% in the poll.
The poll showed broad support for Romney, who won the backing of 85% of Republicans, 55% of independents and 18% of Democrats in Utah.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly name Jonathan Johnson.