SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A group of Utah Republicans mounted a public campaign Monday to urge former presidential candidate Mitt Romney to run for a U.S. Senate seat currently held by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, who says he hasn’t decided whether he’s running for re-election next year.
State Sen. Dan Hemmert said he started a Recruit Romney political action committee and is circulating a petition to encourage the former Massachusetts governor to run regardless of whether Hatch seeks re-election in 2018.
Hemmert, after passing out a petition to about 10 people who attended the effort’s kickoff at the state Capitol, declined to explain why he doesn’t want Hatch to run for re-election, joking “I guess I just don’t want to get beat up by Sen. Hatch.”
He said Hatch “has done an awesome job for Utah” but he wants Romney to run.
Representatives for Romney did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday. Romney was asked about whether he’d run for the seat during a September interview with the Deseret News but the former governor replied: “I’ve got nothing for you on that topic.”
Romney, 70, now lives in Utah, where he led a turnaround of the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Hatch’s spokesman Matt Whitlock said the senator plans to make a decision by the end of the year and he “appreciates this groups recognition of what it would mean to ‘lose his powerful voice’ fighting for Utah in Washington.”
Hemmert, who voted for President Donald Trump last year, said Romney’s personality is a good counter to the president because “he’s thoughtful before he speaks” and “he’s not as bombastic.” But Hemmert said the push to recruit Romney is not motivated by a desire to protest against the president or his policies.
Hemmert said his effort is trying to push back against those out-of-state trying to get involved in the election, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s efforts to recruit candidates to unseat Senate Republicans like Hatch.
“Not that I want to go take him on by any way, shape or form, but yeah, this is our Senate seat,” Hemmert said. “Let us decide who should be representing us. Don’t tell us who should run.”