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Mitt Romney takes on Utah lawmaker in US Senate primary

Mitt Romney
The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mitt Romney will learn Tuesday if he’ll continue the reboot of his political career as voters cast ballots in the primary for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah vacated by Orrin Hatch, who is retiring after more than 40 years in office.

Romney, a former GOP presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts, has deflected attacks on his criticism of President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign while saying his political track record would give Utah more clout in Washington.

Romney said in an op-ed published Sunday in The Salt Lake Tribune that Trump administration policies have exceeded his expectations. Still, he pledged to “continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”

His opponent, state Rep. Mike Kennedy, says he is the true conservative in the race and would work better with Trump. His pitch won over hard-right leaning delegates at the party convention in April but was put to the test Tuesday among more moderate GOP voters around the state.

Kennedy, a lawyer and family doctor, had a hardscrabble upbringing as one of seven children raised by a single mother. The father of eight lives in Alpine and is now worth up to about $2 million, a healthy figure that’s nevertheless a far cry from Romney’s reported fortune of as much as $270 million.

Romney has Trump’s endorsement and is favored to win in the state where he’s a beloved adopted son. Early Tuesday, he greeted patrons at a Utah diner and sat down to a pancake breakfast with his wife Ann.

Kennedy cast his ballot early in the day and made calls to voters, according to his spokeswoman Cindie Quintana.

Romney raised nearly $2 million for his campaign over the past two months, while Kennedy took in $152,000.

Romney and Kennedy were forced into a runoff when neither won 60 percent of delegates’ votes at the state GOP convention in April.

Another marquee race Tuesday in Utah has U.S. Rep. John Curtis looking to take a major step toward winning his first full term in Congress in the 3rd Congressional District, stretching from Salt Lake City suburbs to the state’s southeast corner.

He won a special election last year to finish Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s term and is now facing a rematch against former state lawmaker Chris Herrod.

The hard-right leaning Herrod is known for his strict stance on immigration and has strongly aligned himself with Trump.

Curtis, meanwhile, is considered more moderate and has spoken against broad-based tariffs and bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons and were used in the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

The winner of both GOP primaries will be favorites to win in November in the overwhelmingly Republican state.

On the Democratic side, businessman Kurt Weiland and social worker Lee Castillo were competing to face eight-term U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican in the 1st Congressional District in northern Utah.

Other noteworthy candidates competing in races on Tuesday include Democrat Derek Kitchen, a Salt Lake City councilman running for the state Legislature. He rose to prominence when he and his partner were part of a lawsuit that overturned Utah’s ban on gay marriage.

He’s facing physician Jennifer Plumb, a doctor who vows to work to reduce opioid overdoses, in the primary to replace outspoken Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis.

GOP voters were also deciding the next sheriff of Utah County. Pleasant Grove Police Chief Mike Smith was vying in the Republican primary against U.S. Marshal Jim Phelps to replace Jim Tracy, who is retiring as the sheriff of Utah’s second-largest county.

There are no candidates on the Democratic side, so Tuesday’s winner will be unopposed in November.

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Associated Press writers Rick Bowmer in Salt Lake City and Michelle L. Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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