A group of conservative Republicans in Utah has moved to head off former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s attempt to run for the U.S. Senate by reaffirming a state rule that would prevent Romney from appearing on the ballot.
Powerful conservative members of the Utah Republican Party’s Central Committee passed a measure reaffirming a state rule that excludes signature-gathering to gain access to the ballot, according to New York magazine.
The measure is a direct threat to Romney, who has already announced that he intends to pass petitions and gather signatures to prove his viability to run for the U.S. Senate in the Beehive State.
The conservatives have triggered a power struggle within the Party, pitting a large number of conservatives against more moderate party chairman Rob Anderson, a Romney supporter. The conservative faction does not have the juice to oust Anderson outright, but they did have enough power to push the anti-Romney measure.
Currently, the party rule requires that candidates go through the Party’s caucus and convention system instead of relying solely on gathering petition signatures. Romney intends to pass petitions and bypass having to appeal to Party members for his spot on the Republican ticket.
If the rule sticks, Romney risks losing his membership in the Utah Republican Party and may not be able to run for the Senate while claiming to be a Republican.
Romney has attacked President Donald Trump and has set himself up as a leading Never Trump critic, even though he recently accepted the president’s endorsement to run for the Senate.
Romney did not comment on the controversy, telling Fox 13 that he expects to be on the ballot. “I’m not terribly concerned about that,” he added.
The one-time GOP presidential nominee also said he wanted to avoid wading into internecine political battles.
“I’m going to let others deal with the politics within the party and the process for achieving nomination within the party,” Romney concluded. “I’m instead going to focus on my race, and I’m doing two things: I’m collecting signatures, and I’m going to cross the state to get the support I would need to be successful in the caucus and the convention.”
Opponents of Romney’s decision to bypass the state Party say the state violated the U.S. Constitution by approving the two-track system to get to the ballot. Indeed, the Utah GOP still has an appeal pending in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to reverse the election rule.
Romney is not the only “outsider” who raised the hackles of some conservative Party members. Many were unhappy when the Party offered failed “independent” presidential candidate Evan McMullin an opportunity to address the caucus, the Deseret News reported.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.