Before he was the governor of Massachusetts or the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney launched an unsuccessful 1994 campaign to unseat Sen. Ted Kennedy. Now, more than two decades later, there are reports that Romney is considering a bid to replace another longtime U.S. senator — this time in a different state.
The Atlantic‘s McCay Coppins reported Romney’s interest in returning to elected office in Utah, where he now lives, in April. The report came roughly a week after Sen. Orrin Hatch — an 83-year-old six-term Republican senator, who is considering retirement when his term ends next year — told the National Journal that Romney would be the “perfect” replacement.
Hatch’s comment reportedly caught Romney by surprise, yet within eight days he was warming to the idea, per The Atlantic:
According to six sources familiar with the situation, Romney has spent recent weeks actively discussing a potential 2018 Senate bid with a range of high-level Republicans in both Utah and Washington, and has privately signaled a growing interest in the idea. Romney, though, has made clear he would not pursue the seat without Hatch’s blessing.
The speculation, which had since died down, came roaring back Monday, when the political website UtahPolicy.com reported Romney is “preparing to run” if Hatch does indeed step down, according to unnamed sources close to the 70-year-old former Bay State governor.
As Utah State University political science professor Damon Cann told UtahPolicy.com, Hatch’s delay in announcing whether or not he plans to run for re-election in 2018 could effectively clear the field for Romney to step in.
“Hatch could decide on the last day of the filing period not to file, and Romney would have the resources to step in and run,” says Cann. “Few other people would be able to do that.”
“There’s no one on the planet who could beat Mitt Romney in a Senate race in Utah,” quipped Cann. “Romney is widely admired and appreciated in the state of Utah. If Sen. Hatch doesn’t run, there will be a collective sigh of relief from many Utahns. If Mitt Romney does run, there will be cheers from the gallery and enthusiasm from every corner of the state.”
A poll commissioned by UtahPolicy.com found Romney with a 38-point lead in a hypothetical matchup against Democrat Jenny Wilson. (The same poll found Hatch trailing Wilson.)
Romney’s staff did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
In a statement to media outlets, Hatch’s staff batted down Monday’s report.
“As much as we love to support our local media outlets, this is the third or fourth time we have seen this same report without any new sources or any new information,” spokesman Matt Whitlock told the Salt Lake Tribune.
But at the same time, Hatch himself, who says he will make a final decision on his future by the end of the year, told a local radio station he would “feel good” about retiring if Romney ran.
“As of right now, we’re certainly saying we are” running for re-election, the 83-year-old senator said. “But I have to say that I would be very pleased if Mitt Romney did run for Senate. I would feel good about retirement at that particular point.”
That’s because Romney is “highly qualified, a very quality guy and he would represent Utah very, very well,” Hatch told KSL Newsradio. “I’m not trying to appoint somebody. I’m just saying if that happened to come about, I would be pleased.”
And according to some local Republicans in Utah, “Romney’s people” are pumping fuel into the idea, as the Washington Examiner reported Monday.
“Romney’s people have been encouraging the talk and Hatch this morning on radio said he would love to have Romney succeed him if he retires,” Utah Republican operative LaVarr Webb told the Washington Examiner. “Hatch is freezing the field for so long that it will take someone rich or famous to gear up a campaign. Hatch probably won’t announce until December, but I think he retires and Romney runs.”
Romney himself has “mixed feelings” about running, an anonymous advisor told The Boston Globe, estimating the chances that he actually runs around 30 to 40 percent.
Ryan Williams, a former staffer of the Massachusetts governor, told the Globe that Romney’s role as a private citizen allows him to “speak out” on certain issues, even if elected office provides an opportunity to play a more central role.
“He’s a private citizen; now he has time to enjoy his family, children, and grandkids,” Williams said. “He’s living a very nice life as a private citizen.”
Others questioned why Romney — accustomed to serving as governor or CEO — would even want to serve in the 100-member Senate, where his decision-making ability would be diminished.
“I am still not completely convinced that at 72, Mitt wants to commute to D.C. to vote on obscure judges and the naming of post office buildings. He is clearly looking at what his place will be to make a difference for the next 10 years,” an unnamed Republican operative in Utah told the Examiner.
“He’s the type of person who gets stuff done,” one former Romney advisor told the Boston Herald. “I just don’t see the Senate being a good place for him.”
And these considerations don’t even touch on Romney’s precarious relationship with President Donald Trump.
Nevertheless, after Trump passed on nominating him as secretary of state, Romey told the Salt Lake City-based Deseret News last February that “all doors are open” in reference to the 2018 Senate race.
“I do know Gov. Romney is somebody who has a strong desire to serve the country,” Williams told the Herald this week. “So it wouldn’t surprise me if he decided to take another crack at elected office.”
According to Coppins, “few Utah Republicans” think it’s a good idea for Hatch to run again and the most recent reports could be attributed to Romney supporters trying to get traction for a 2018 run.
If I had to guess, this is coming up again now because Romney loyalists are pushing the idea and want to get some traction in Utah.
— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) September 11, 2017
However, in a tweet, UtahPolicy.com pushed back on Coppins for underestimating the movement at work behind the scenes.
From what our sources tell us, it's more than that. There are active plans underway for this campaign if Hatch steps down
— Utah Policy (@UtahPolicy) September 11, 2017
It seems we’ll have to wait until the end of the year to find out.