Mitt Romney may be a formidable candidate but that didn’t exactly scare away other hopefuls from Utah’s U.S. Senate race as the filing deadline arrived Thursday.

Democratic Salt Lake County Council member Jenny Wilson and 17 others — including 11 Republicans — are challenging Romney, the former GOP presidential nominee, Massachusetts governor and head of the 2002 Olympic Games.

“It really is a David vs. Goliath story, isn’t it,” said Republican Alicia Colvin, one of the many would-be Davids.

Romney welcomed the large field to the battle for the seat being left open by the pending retirement of seven-term Sen. Orrin Hatch. “Come on in, the water’s fine. We’ll enjoy the time together,” he said. “It’s a great American tradition to be able to speak your mind and to run for office.”

Like others in the race, Democrat Wilson drew contrasts to Romney’s Massachusetts background by noting that she is a fifth-generation Utahn.

“I have been on the ground in Utah communities for many years, and I look forward to bringing our statewide priorities to the U.S. Senate,” Wilson, a former chief of staff to the late Rep. Bill Orton and daughter of one-time Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, said.

Most of Romney’s Republican challengers are running for the first time and are not well-known, with the possible exception of state Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine. (The last time Romney ran against a Kennedy for the U.S. Senate, he lost a tough race in Massachusetts against liberal legend Ted Kennedy).

His challengers contend that Romney is a carpetbagger from out of state, or simply does not understand Utah.

“A lot of people have trouble with Mitt running here,” said St. George attorney Larry Meyers. “They want a conservative and a longtime Utah resident. I’m a conservative for limited government and limited spending.”

“Mitt Romney is wrong for Utah,” said GOP candidate Samuel Parker, a Salt Lake City banker. “He’s not running for Utah. He’s running for Mitt Romney. I think that’s pretty darn clear.”

“I grew up in poverty — like eating from dumpsters behind grocery stores — but I rose out of it,” said GOP candidate Timothy Jimenez, a Tooele environmental and civil engineer. “I don’t think anyone in D.C. understands that kind of experience and how to succeed,” including Romney. So he said he is running to offer it.

Kennedy stressed in an announcement video how he raised his family in Utah, without mentioning directly that Romney did not.

Republican Jeremy Friedbaum, a piano technician who 20 years ago said God called him to politics and forced former U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon into a primary, calls Romney “Dudley Do-Wrong,” and says he “forfeited a very winnable [presidential] race by treating the energized tea party patriot Republicans as if they had cooties.”

Colvin, a medical device company employee who is just old enough to run for the Senate at age 30, said she is running to offer the view of a young woman and GOP moderate — and said she finds “a lot of people who don’t see Mitt as representing Utah.”

Of note, State Auditor John Dougall considered challenging Romney when “it looked like we might have a ‘coronation instead of a conversation.’” He chose not to run, saying, “We now have several good Republican candidates in the race for the nomination and I wish them all well.”

Romney responded to the carpetbagger claims saying, “I lived in Utah for 10 years. I think the people of Utah know me pretty darn well. In fact, wherever I go throughout the country, people just assume I’m from Utah. They’ve pretty much assumed that my whole career.”

He adds, “I think I’ll be able to convince the people of Utah that I can do more for Utah than any other freshman senator.”

Romney is also gathering signatures to ensure he will appear on the primary ballot, but said he is using only volunteers to gather them — not paid firms.

Other Republicans running against Romney are Stoney Fonua, Joshua C. Lee, Torrey Jenkins, Loy Brunson and Abe Lincoln Brian Jenkins (who resembles the original Abe Lincoln). Democrats include Mitchell Vice, Jeff Dransfield and Larry Livingston.

Tim Aalders of the Constitutional Party, Craig Bowden of the Libertarian Party and Reed McCandless of the Independent American Party are also running.

Other congressional races

3rd District • Freshman GOP Rep. John Curtis faces a possible rematch with former GOP State Rep. Chris Herrod. Curtis defeated him in the primary election last year. Curtis qualified for the ballot by collecting signatures, while Herrod reached it by winning the GOP convention. Curtis is again pursuing both paths to the nomination while Herrod is sticking to the convention-only route.

Others in the race are Republicans Henry Rudolph Kneitz III, Michael David Leavitt and Steven Stromness; Democrats Kent Moon and James Courage Singer; United Utah Party candidate Melanie McCoard; and Independent American Gregory Duerden.

4th District • GOP Rep. Mia Love is expected to have the state’s closest congressional race, with a challenge from Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. A Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll in January showed Love with a 5 percentage-point lead. But four other Democrats are challenging McAdams for that party’s nomination: Sheldon Kirkham, Darlene McDonald, Morgan Shepherd and Tom Taylor.

1st District • Republican Rep. Rob Bishop attracted six challengers: Republican Kevin Probasco and Chawick Fairbanks III, Democrats Lee Castillo and Kurt Weiland, Green Party candidate Adam Davis and United Utah Party Candidate Eric Eliason.

2nd District • GOP Rep. Chris Stewart faces six challengers: Republicans Mary Burkett and Ken Clark, Democrats Randy Hopkins and Shireen Ghorbani, Libertarian Jeffery Whipple, and United Utah Party candidate Jan Garbett.

Top legislative races

Utah this year has 15 state Senate races and 75 for Utah House seats. Following are some of what may be the hottest or most interesting races.

Senate District 11 • In the race to replace retiring Sen. Howard Stephenson, two current House members face each other: Reps. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and LaVar Christensen, R-Draper. Both say their families have long been friends.

“I always run friendly campaigns,” joked McCay. “We’re losing a body of knowledge about taxes with the departure of Senator Stephenson. I have a background on tax policy that I think is important to fill that gap.”

Christensen — who was reelected by a mere five votes two years ago — said he is running for the Senate “because of my love of public service and politics.” He adds he and McCay “both offer our strengths and abilities, and defer to the voice of the people.”

Also running in that race is Republican Delaina Tonks and Democrat Christian Burridge, a former congressional candidate.

Senate District 2 • A huge field seeks the seat of retiring incumbent Jim Dabakis.

Democrats have swarmed to the opening. Hopefuls include retired University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless, Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchens, Nadia Mahallati (seeking to become Utah’s first Iranian-American legislator), Jennifer Plumb, David Andreason, Shawn Robinson, Jessica Foard and Rickie Mehl.

Chase Winder is running as a Republican and Vance Hansen is running as an unaffiliated candidate.

Senate District 15 • Incumbent Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, has drawn a challenge from Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, who was a founder of the Patrick Henry Caucus in the Legislature. Also running is Republican Emily Ellsworth, a former congressional aide, United Utah Party candidate Lee Houghton, and Independent American Party candidate Tommy Williams.

House District 19 • Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, is being challenged by former Utah Republican Party Vice Chairman Phill Wright, a leader of ultraconservatives on the GOP State Central Committee. Also running is Democrat Courtney Jones and Libertarian Joe Speciale.

House District 30 • Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, faces a rematch with former GOP Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City. Winder defeated Cox two years ago in the Republican convention. Also running are Democrats Chelsey Rose, Robert Burch Jr. and Derrick Fullum.

Senate District 9 • Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, floated the idea of trying to move up to the Senate to replace retiring Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, but he is running for re-election in the House. Running are Republicans David Hart and Kirk A. Cullimore Jr., Democrats Monica M. Zoltanski and Abbey Wright, and United Utah Party candidate Alexander Castagno.

House District 37 • Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, is being challenged by former Utah Department of Health Executive Director David N. Sundwall, who is running as a Republican.

Senate District 17 • Current Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, will try to replace retiring Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City. Also running for the open seat are Republicans Clark Davis and Chad Soffe and Democrat Michael Keil.

House District 10 • Former Democratic Rep. Lou Shurtliff is seeking a comeback for the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden. She faces Republican Terry Schow, the retired Utah Veterans Affairs director, and Republican Lorraine Brown.

House District 8 • Rep. Gage Froerer,, R-Huntsville, is retiring. The Democrat trying to take over his seat is his sister-in-law, Deana Froerer. She has said their different politics have made for some interesting family dinners. Others in that race are Republicans Deone Ehlers-Rhorer, Kimberly Stevens, Jason Kyle and Steve Waldrip.