Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, two-time presidential candidate, and one-time Trump foe, declared victory Tuesday night in Utah’s Senate race, keeping the seat — and the Senate as a whole — safely in Republican hands while control of the House tipped to Democrats.
Early results showed Romney leading his Democratic opponent, Jenny Wilson, 62 percent to 31 percent.
Romney took the stage at his Orem campaign headquarters just after 8:30 p.m. Flanked by his wife Ann and several of his grandchildren, the 71-year-old paid tribute to fallen Utah soldier and North Ogden Mayor Maj. Brent Taylor, who was killed in Afghanistan earlier this week. In his final Facebook post before he was killed, Taylor urged all Americans to vote.
“An unfathomable price in patriot blood was paid to give us the right to vote. This week, that price was paid again,” Romney said. “Major Brent Taylor … gave the last full measure of devotion for freedom’s cause. In his last post on Facebook, he quoted FDR: ‘in the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved.’”
The former GOP presidential nominee shared his vision for a return to bipartisanship in the Senate, which he said he hoped to help kickstart.
“I will be one of one hundred United States Senators,” he said. “But I believe that one person, doing the right thing at the right time can have lasting impact. I will work with good men and women in both parties to serve the cause of America’s enduring greatness. And I will endeavor to conduct myself in a manner that is consistent with Utah values and with our national character.”
Romney hit on several of his campaign themes in a short victory speech, including controlling the U.S. deficit, immigration reform and fighting federal overreach.
“Utah knows best what’s best for Utah,” he said.Wilson, a Salt Lake County Councilwoman, conceded the race Tuesday evening and said she had just one ask of Romney: “Do not forget about us, the people of Utah.”
Wilson, who will keep her at-large seat on the county council, said she was not done working for all Utahns.
“I am in it until the people of this state are respected, no matter where they’re born or who they love. And I am in it until the Trump rallies of division and hate are a thing of the past,” she said.
Despite Wilson’s efforts to paint Romney as an outsider with an inconsistent policy record, even referring to him as “Multiple Choice Mitt” during their only debate, she was no match for Romney’s deep-pocketed and well-oiled campaign, which raised more than $5 million.
Sen. Mike Lee, now Utah’s senior senator, joined Romney onstage and welcomed him to the U.S. Senate.
“He’s going to be an outstanding United States senator,” Lee said. “And with the Republican majority that I sense we’re going to hold onto in the Senate tonight, we’re going to do great things.”
Gov. Gary Herbert, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, Attorney General Sean Reyes and other Republican officials were also on hand Tuesday night to congratulate Romney on his victory.
Political observers largely expected Romney to win, and many were curious how he would handle his relationship with the Trump administration during the campaign and in the Senate. Despite winning in Utah, Trump’s popularity has waned considerably since his election.
While Romney was a sharp and early critic of Trump in 2016, famously calling the then-presidential nominee a “phony” and a “fraud,” Romney, who Trump briefly considered bringing into his cabinet as Secretary of State, has walked back his criticisms of the president since announcing his candidacy in February. Last month he denied he was ever a leader of the “never Trump” movement.
Romney avoided any mention of the president Tuesday night. Throughout his campaign, he has praised the president’s legislative achievements while holding him at arm’s length.
Romney had also campaigned on the arguement that should he win the Senate seat, he would be poised to accomplish a great deal more than most junior senators.
“He has Mitch McConnell’s ear already, which is huge for a guy that’s coming in for the first time,” said Romney supporter Richard Galati of West Jordan, who was sporting both a “Make America Great Again” hat and a Romney campaign t-shirt.
Romney has repeatedly said his relationships with sitting senators of both parties and other Washington influencers – built through his work as governor of Massachusetts and years of campaigning with other Republicans – would give him a leg up in crafting and passing legislation.
"Everybody can talk a good game,” Romney said in April, after learning he would need to compete in a primary for the Republican nomination. “We're all for the same policies, but who can actually get the job done? And I hope to get the job done for the people of Utah.”
The businessman and former presidential nominee faced a few hurdles during his run. The state’s more conservative Republican delegates forced him into a primary with Mike Kennedy, a state lawmaker from Utah County whom Romney trounced in their June contest, 71 percent to 29 percent.
With Republicans appearing to maintain a majority in the Senate, Romney is more likely to get legislation through Republican-controlled committees.
According to political historian Eric Ostermeier, Romney will become the first Senator in modern history who also served as governor of another state.
Retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, who has held the seat for more than four decades, bid farewell to the state GOP Tuesday night and wished Romney luck.
“It’s been the privilege of my life to represent this great state for 42 years,” Hatch said. “And I gave it everything I have.”