Gehrke: Mitt Romney is skipping the first Utah Republican convention since he became a senator

U. S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney delivers his speech to the delegates at the Utah Republican Nominating Convention Saturday, April 21, 2018, at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah. (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

There’s been a lot of speculation around the question: What kind of reception will freshman Sen. Mitt Romney receive this Saturday at the Utah Republican Party state convention?

But consider this: Does it really matter if he’s not there to hear it?

“[Sen. Romney] has family commitments and won’t be able to attend,” said Romney’s spokeswoman, Liz Johnson.

Robert Gehrke

It is unusual, although not entirely unprecedented, for a sitting U.S. senator to miss the state convention. Instead, Romney will send a video greeting to the delegates assembled in Orem.

A year ago, more than half of those delegates voted to support former state Rep. Michael Kennedy over Romney at the GOP nominating convention, a stunning upset for a man who has been considered political royalty in the state since he ran Utah’s Winter Olympics in 2002.

He went on to crush Kennedy in the Republican primary and rolled to a victory in November.

Since taking office, Romney has frustrated some die-hard Republicans for his willingness to lob some criticism at President Donald Trump.

And his relationship with convention delegates was already on thin ice going back to 2014, when, in the midst of a push by the group Count My Vote to supplant nominating conventions with direct primaries, Romney came down squarely against the convention system. Particularly after his own experience as the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

“I want to tell you that Ann and I are supporters. Since the election, I’ve been pushing hard for states to move to direct primaries,” Romney wrote in an email to former Gov. Mike Leavitt, co-founder of the Count My Vote group. “Caucus/convention systems exclude so many people: they rarely produce a result that reflects how rank-and-file Republicans feel. I think that’s true for Democrats, too.”

Romney had tried to smooth that over during his Senate run, particularly in the lead up to his nominating convention last year, but it remained a huge anchor.

Skipping this weekend’s convention saves Romney from encountering the same sort of hostile treatment that others — like Leavitt, Gov. Gary Herbert, and Romney’s predecessor, Sen. Orrin Hatch — have encountered.

It also could be seen as a snub and something larger, a sentiment that elected officials no longer feel beholden to dance for the delegates when the delegates wield less power than they once did.

Either way, it means the Romney family can enjoy what should be a lovely spring day. And that’s getting the last laugh.