Washington (AFP) – Mitt Romney was a two-time loser in the US presidential race, but on Tuesday the veteran politician and occasional Donald Trump critic took a giant step towards redemption by winning his party’s Senate nomination in Utah.
The result all but assured Romney of victory in this year’s mid-term elections in the conservative western state, which has not had a Democrat in the Senate in 42 years.
“Well, it looks like our team won the primary,” Romney told a cheering crowd after easily defeating conservative state Representative Mike Kennedy. News reports said Romney took 73 percent of the votes.
Should Romney win in November as expected, Trump will be faced with another thorn in his side in the Senate from within his own party ranks.
The wealthy 71-year-old businessman, failed 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor has argued that his high political profile would bring Utah more standing in Washington than the average first-term senator.
Romney was deeply critical of Trump during the 2016 campaign, when he called out Trump as “phony” and a “fraud.”
Most Utah voters, like Romney, are Mormon, and have been unsettled by Trump’s brash style.
Trump won the state by about 18 percentage points in 2016, but that is far less than the 48-point margin in 2012 enjoyed by Romney, an adopted son in Utah where he is known for turning around the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Romney has tempered his criticism in the two years since Trump’s campaign, announcing his support for the Republican tax overhaul and saying Trump’s first year in office has “exceeded my expectations.”
But he maintains he will be an independent Senate voice for Utah, not a simple cheerleader for the Trump agenda.
If the president “says or does something you feel is morally wrong, if you stay silent you tacitly assent to the captain’s posture,” Romney said this week in an opinion column in the Salt Lake Tribune.
“I have and will continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”
Romney will face Democrat Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County council member, in November.
They are running to succeed Senator Orrin Hatch, who was first elected in 1976.
Trump endorsed Romney in February shortly after he announced he was running, saying Romney “will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch.”