SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mitt Romney faces an intriguing hurdle in his bid to be the U.S. senator from Utah this weekend when he seeks the blessing of far-right leaning delegates at the state convention against a field of 11 competitors.
Romney already has collected enough signatures to advance to a GOP primary bid regardless of what party stalwarts do at the convention. A win would clear a path to victory in conservative Utah by letting him bypass a primary altogether.
But a loss would be an embarrassing stumble for the man seen as the likely successor to retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Romney needs to win over skeptics among several thousand delegates who question his dedication to the state — he moved there after losing the 2012 presidential race — and some are wary of his criticism of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I think it’s very hard to predict what will happen at a convention,” Romney told The Associated Press this week, fresh off two months of campaigning across the state. “I hope I do well, I don’t worry about alternatives. We take what happens as it comes.”
Romney is emphasizing his local connections and intent to use his clout to help Utah, where he’s known for his role in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics and becoming the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party.
Democrats will choose their nominee next weekend, but any Republican would be overwhelmingly favored in November.
Romney’s competitors for the nomination are largely political unknowns who acknowledge the David-vs-Goliath nature of the contest, but insist he shouldn’t get an automatic pass from Republicans.
Some delegates agree.
Linda Spencer, 59, of Orem, said she leans libertarian and carefully reviewed each candidate before settling on southern Utah attorney Larry Meyer as her favorite. “He is just a humble, down-to-earth, honest person,” she said.
She especially likes his strong support for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose 2014 armed standoff with federal agents over grazing fees made him a key figure in the debate over control of public lands.
Others in the crowded field include state Rep. Mike Kennedy, a doctor and lawyer from Alpine who has served in the Legislature since 2013. Kennedy said in a statement he’s focused on reducing the national debt and he understands what it’s like to balance a budget and raise a family in Utah.
Some Romney critics echo attacks he faced when he ran for president, including his shifting abortion stance and a health care law he signed as Massachusetts governor that was used as a blueprint for President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Others have questioned the depth of his ties to Utah and his criticism of Trump; he called Trump a “con-man” and a “phony” during the 2016 race. Sam Parker, a banker, has said he’s running because he is worried Romney wouldn’t be a strong, conservative ally for Trump.
Romney and Trump have made peace since the president took office, and he has endorsed Romney’s bid to succeed Hatch.