A small group of state lawmakers has launched a campaign to encourage Mitt Romney to run for U.S. Senate, saying he is a proven leader and faithful Republican, who would be a moderating voice amid turbulent times.
Three Republicans in the Utah Legislature added to the national chatter about Utah’s Senate seat when they launched the campaign, which they say is a grass-roots attempt to gin up support for the prospect of a Romney run.
Sen. Dan Hemmert, the Orem Republican leading the “Recruit Romney” effort, said Romney would counter the governing approach taken by President Donald Trump.
“He’s thoughtful before he speaks, and he’s not as bombastic,” Hemmert said of Romney. “I think he has personally a higher moral kind of background framework to speak from. I almost think it’s night and day, just how he talks.”
Hemmert said the campaign could send a message to those outside Utah, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon.
The controversial executive chairman of the the right-wing media outlet Breitbart News, said he’s recruiting candidates to challenge incumbent Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
“Maybe not directly, but indirectly” the effort is a signal for Bannon to stay out of Utah politics, Hemmert said. “This is our Senate seat. Let us decide who should be representing us. Don’t tell us who should run. Let us decide.”
Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, and Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, stood with Hemmert during the campaign launch Monday and said they supported Romney.
Hatch’s spokesman said Friday the senator, one of the longest-serving Republicans in history, still hasn’t decided whether he’ll retire at the end of his term. Polls have shown that Utah voters overwhelmingly want Hatch to step aside, and that Romney would be a popular candidate. Matt Whitlock said Hatch would decide by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, a collection of state and national figures have encouraged Romney to seek office should Hatch retire.
Frank VanderSloot, a Republican donor and CEO of Melaleuca, a supplement company, said Monday he met with Romney in Idaho in late October. He encouraged the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee to run for Hatch’s seat if it opens.
“He’s not the hard partisan that you see played out in today’s politics,” VanderSloot said. “He’s respected from both sides.”
Politico reported last week that Romney told VanderSloot he was interested in running, citing anonymous sources. VanderSloot said he wasn’t one of the sources, and that Romney “did not disclose to me his plans.”
But he said Romney was one Republican who would be willing to stand up to Trump if he thought he needed to.
“He’s proven that he will,” VanderSloot said. “He’ll get behind President Trump when he’s doing the right thing, but he’s got the courage to tell Trump how he sees it. There aren’t many folks in the Republican Party willing to do that. We need that.”
Romney didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.
In March, Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told the National Journal he’d consider stepping aside if Romney ran, saying “Mitt Romney would be perfect” for the position.
Hatch’s prolonged silence about the campaign has come at a time when Republicans have tried to pass meaningful legislation in Congress. The current battle, after unsuccessful attempts on health care reform, is a tax overal, an effort Hatch will play a central role in.
Hemmert said Hatch’s silence could be strategic, noting the conservative seven-term senator’s involvement in ongoing policymaking. He said he’d support Romney running whether Hatch decides to retire or run again, though he was reluctant to openly call for a battle between the two.
“I guess I just don’t want to get beat up by Sen. Hatch,” he said. “I hope Romney is going to run...irrespective of what Sen. Hatch does.”