Utah lawmaker hoping to ‘recruit Romney,’ launches petition urging former presidential hopeful to run for Senate

Hemmert believes thousands of signatures could give Romney a nudge to run for the seat now occupied by Orrin Hatch.<br>

FILE - This March 15, 2013 file photo shows former Massachusetts Gov., and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry is apologizing to Mitt Romney?s family after a picture of the Romney holiday card that showed the 2012 Republican presidential candidate?s adopted, African-American grandson was joked about on her show. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

A Utah state lawmaker drafted a petition and a mock campaign website this week to persuade — or, as he puts it, to “recruit” — Mitt Romney to run for U.S. Senate in 2018.

“I can hopefully create a grass-roots effort,” said first-term Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem. “And I think that that could help influence his decision, sure.”

The Recruit Romney political action committee, recognized by the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, mobilized after recent reports that the 2012 GOP presidential nominee was considering a run for the seat currently held by Sen. Orrin Hatch.

The conservative seven-term senator, though, has not decided whether to run for re-election next year and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who now has a home in Utah and actively votes as a Holladay resident, has not announced any intentions.

Romney’s spokeswoman did not return a request for comment Friday.

Hatch has said if he retires, Romney “would be perfect” to replace him. And Romney would likely win. A September poll finds him snatching 64 percent of the vote in a matchup against Democrat Jenny Wilson.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, center, leaves the committee's executive session on Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Hemmert’s petition at recruitromney.com acknowledges that Utah “will lose a powerful voice in D.C.” if Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, chooses to step down. So it’s not about unseating the senator, he said.

Hatch’s spokesman Matt Whitlock said the senator “appreciates” that recognition of how he’s “fighting for Utah in Washington.”

“While he has not made a final decision about whether to seek re-election, he [also] appreciates Gov. Romney’s pledged support should he decide to run again,” Whitlock added. Hatch is expected to say whether he will seek another term by the end of the year.

For his efforts, Hemmert hopes to collect thousands of signatures from Utah voters encouraging Romney to run. He’s not sure how many have signed on so far, but the Facebook page for the PAC had more than 40 “likes” by Friday afternoon, hours after it went live. The lawmaker will also formally unveil the petition at an event Monday at the state Capitol.

He calls Romney “one of the finest statesmen we have in this country” and lists as evidence his experience as a governor and a consultant, as well as for taking over the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

“I think he would elevate the dialogue at a national level,” Hemmert said. “Romney has a resume that’s as impressive as anyone in the country.”

Romney has recently backed Utah Congressman-elect John Curtis’ campaign and joined the finance committee for Rep. Mia Love’s 2018 race.

He also attended a Salt Lake City gala last weekend hosted by the Sutherland Institute, Utah’s conservative think tank. The keynote speaker, pundit Bill Kristol, said during his address that he’d met two of his favorite politicians in the audience: “Sen. Mike Lee and Sen. Mitt Romney.” After laughs for calling Romney a senator, Kristol responded with a smile, “Sorry, that was a slip.”

Kristol hasn’t been shy in criticizing President Donald Trump — and neither has Romney. In the past year and a half, Romney has called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud.” But he’s also praised the president’s response to Syrian leadership and was vetted by Trump as a possible secretary of state (though the job later went to former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson).

Others who could potentially jump into a race for Hatch’s seat include Reps. Love and Chris Stewart and Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson.