With Sen. Hatch Out, All Eyes Turn To Romney
It was a subtle but telling detail amid the deluge of news following Sen. Orrin Hatch’s retirement announcement on Tuesday. Mitt Romney’s Twitter account changed his location from Massachusetts to Holladay, Utah, where he owns a home.
Several political outlets picked up on it and wondered if it wasn’t Romney’s way of signaling a potential bid for Utah’s now open Senate seat.
The former GOP presidential candidate has reportedly been mulling a bid for several months, meeting with top Republicans in the state and laying the groundwork for a run.
Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said the speculation has already discouraged would-be candidates from entering the fray.
“I think there is great interest from other Republican candidates, but Romney is an entity unto himself," she said. "He was a presidential candidate; he’s incredibly popular in the state.”
Romney won Utah with 72 percent of the vote in 2012 presidential race, the largest margin of any state that year.
Here’s how Atlantic writer McKay Coppins, who first reported on Romney's interest in Utah's Senate seat, put it last fall.
“By all accounts everyone I talk to says that this would be a cakewalk for Romney," he said.
In a statement Tuesday, Romney thanked Hatch for his 40 years of service, but didn’t spell out his own plans.
There are already a couple of candidates on the opposing team. Democratic Salt Lake County Council member Jenny Wilson declared her candidacy over the summer.
With speculation over Hatch’s seat surging, she's racked up several thousand more followers on social media and has sought to capitalize on some of that attention.
But Cotti said it will be nearly impossible for a Democrat if Romney does end up running.
“If you’re running against a Republican like Romney, who in the past has won Salt Lake County and Summit County — some of those more bluer areas of the state — you have to hope it will be anybody but Romney," she said.
A Dan Jones poll in November underlined that point. In the survey of 600 Utahns, Romney was favored over Wilson 72-21 percent in a potential matchup. She faced a less formidable gap, 50-35, with Hatch still in the race.
Cotti says Romney has the most resources at this point to mount a successful bid in Utah should he choose to run.