Many Utahns were excited when Mitt Romney finally made his candidacy for the seat currently held by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch official. Ogden resident Paul Henstrom, who voted for Romney for president in 2012, hopes he can be a bridge in a deeply divided Congress.
Henstrom said he could see Romney “taking kind of a leadership role and getting more bipartisanship. It seems like for the last couple years, Congress hasn’t really turned out much [legislation] unless it’s become a crisis situation,” he said.
Rob and Kym Kirk were heading to a Utah County GOP dinner Friday night, where Romney spoke. Kym Kirk, who owns a small business, said there’s one issue in particular she’d like him to focus on.
“I would love to see him, as a businessman, really support small business and keep the taxes low so that businesses can grow,” she said.
The 70-year-old has been a vocal critic of President Trump, and now Utahns will be watching his campaign and wondering if that will continue. Rob Kirk said even though he’s a big Trump supporter, he has no problem with Romney’s criticisms of the president.
“I’m certainly not blind to the fact that there may be some things that need to be reviewed and looked at. So, I was, frankly, very positive that he actually comes out and says there are a few things that he disagrees with the president about,” Kirk said.
Inside the Utah Valley Convention Center, Republicans mixed, mingled and ate dinner before Romney’s speech. They welcomed the former Massachusetts governor with a standing ovation. He broke the typical format and spent the first half-hour of his speech answering pre-submitted questions.
One asked where he stands on President Trump, to which Romney responded that he was generally with the president on policy, but not much else.
“I’m not always with the president on what he might say or do,” Romney said. “If that happens, I’ll call ‘em like I see ‘em, the way I have in the past.”
“But we can certainly work together and our agenda will be for the best interest of the people of Utah and the people of our country,” he said, before adding that he is “more of a deficit hawk” than Trump.
Romney also weighed in on last week’s deadly school shooting in Florida, saying more should be done to prevent gun violence. He supports a proposal co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch for enhanced background checks, but said the best solutions for mitigating gun violence should come at the state level.
Afterward, Romney spoke to reporters but wouldn’t say whether he thinks states should ban assault weapons.
“Each state, including our state, ought to consider the widest array of options,” he said. “Find out where there’s common ground, which things they think would do best to protect their students.”
“I’m concerned about our students here,” Romney added, saying he has grandchildren attending school in Utah and he wants to make sure schools are safe.
Romney is favored to win the senate seat—so much so that it’s prompted criticisms of a “coronation” rather than an election.
But Romney maintains that he’ll work for people’s votes, saying he’ll spend the next few months visiting every county in the state to meet with voters. As a candidate using the petition route, he’ll have to—Romney needs 28,000 signatures to guarantee himself a place on the June primary ballot.