A day after Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson publicly criticized (then apologized for saying) Mitt Romney doesn’t have enough experience in Utah to represent it as a senator, Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leaders rallied to Romney’s defense on Thursday.

That came as Romney phoned several of them in advance of his expected campaign launch on Friday — leading them to say they expect Romney to work hard to prove to Utahns that he understands them, and will work to win their trust.

Herbert told reporters, “I think he’s going to try to get to all parts of the state. In his conversation with me, he wants people to know that ‘I care, that I need to earn the vote, and understand and respect the process.’”

The governor added, “We have people making all kinds of comments as if somehow he won’t represent Utah, but as you know our senators represent the nation. They happen to reside here in Utah, United States senators from Utah. Boy, Gov. Romney certainly understands national issues and has been involved in that in many ways, so he’s certainly well prepared.”

Herbert added, “I appreciate the fact that since 2013, he’s called Utah home. But he also recognizes the need to get out, earn the vote, earn the respect of the people of Utah and compete against others that I’m sure will throw their hat in the ring, too. “

Utah Senate Majority Leader Stuart Adams, R-Layton, was among legislators who received phone calls from Romney on Thursday. He said Romney said he “wanted to reach out to lawmakers and seek their opinions about what he might do if he is elected.”

Adams said, “I was impressed with the fact that he was reaching out.”

Senate President Wayne Niderhauser, R-Sandy, said while Romney was raised in Michigan and lived much of his life in Massachusetts, “he’s had deep ties to Utah all of his life” through his family.

Adams praised Romney’s work with the 2002 Olympics, for example, including overcoming scandal and handling security well just months after the Sept. 11 attacks. “He not only made the Olympics a great success, he made them a financial success.”

Adams added Romney has “that economic sense of not spending more than you make, actually saving some money…. Those are issues that are big to Utah, and he showed us how to do it. I think he’d make a heck of a candidate.”

Niederhauser said, however, that he and others would not be surprised to see a contested race for the Senate, not a mere coronation for Romney. “In the United States, you have to be elected. ... It’s good that our voters have choices.”

Adams said, “I would expect there to be contenders.”

State Auditor John Dougall is one potential candidate, and surveys this week have asked voters if they would prefer him to Romney.

Adams said of Dougall, “I served in the [Utah] House with him and he is viable candidate. He’s a great person and has done a good job as the auditor.” But Adams added that he is still a Romney supporter “for now, until I see who’s running. But I think Romney surely would be the front-runner.”