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Mitt Romney Forced Into GOP Primary With Conservative State Rep. Mike Kennedy

Nicole Nixon

Mitt Romney will face a primary challenger this June in his quest for Utah's open Senate seat. 

Romney faced off against 11 other candidates, including an Abe Lincoln impersonator, at the Utah GOP's nominating convention on Saturday in West Valley City. 

After two rounds of voting, Republican delegates split their votes between Romney, who garnered 49.12 percent, and Utah House Rep. Mike Kennedy, who got 50.88 percent. Romney needed 60 percent to avoid a runoff. 

"Everybody can talk a good game, we're all for the same policies, but who can actually get the job done?" Romney told reporters after the results. "I hope to be able to get the job done for Utah."

Mike Kennedy, a doctor from Alpine, compared the race to the Biblical story of David vs. Goliath as he told delegates he would be the more conservative choice for U.S. Senate. 

"In this battle you are David, firm in your fight for liberty," he said to the more 3,600 delegates in attendance. "Goliath is Washington, D.C., intimidating but beatable. And I, I am your stone ready to be flung at the foes of liberty who seek to oppress us."

The result was not entirely unexpected. State delegates have shown a preference for more right-leaning candidates and some Republicans were critical of Romney's policies and perceived status as the presumptive candidate. 

"He's big government, I'm small government," said Drew Chamberlain, a Layton delegate. "I don't think he's representative of Utah." 

The former GOP presidential nominee had already secured his spot on the June primary ballot by gathering voter signatures. Utah allows candidates to get signatures or go to convention — or both — in order to qualify for the ballot. 

Both Kennedy and Romney are vying for the seat being vacated by longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, who bid farewell to delegates on Saturday amid a shower of American flag confetti. 

Democrats will select their nominee for U.S. Senate on April 28. 

Romney is not the only one facing a primary this summer. Rep. John Curtis of Utah's 3rd Congressional District will get a rematch with Chris Herrod, a former state lawmaker, after failing to get to 60 percent.

Curtis defeated Herrod in last year's special election primary to replace Congressman Jason Chaffetz. 

The convention, lasting more than eight hours, was dominated by infighting and technical issues.

State delegates avoided a more brutal fight over the direction of the party and controversial changes to its bylaws. They delayed debate on proposed amendments and resolutions on those things until their 2019 organizing convention. 

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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