Mitt Romney will be the next U.S. senator from Utah, with unofficial election results showing the former Massachusetts governor and two-time presidential candidate easily outdistancing his Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson.
After vote totals late Tuesday, Romney held a 28 percentage-point lead with 61 percent of the vote, compared with 33 percent for Wilson.
At Romney’s campaign headquarters in Orem, cheers and applause erupted shortly after 8 p.m., when polls closed and national media outlets projected a win for the Republican, a former leader of Salt Lake City’s 2002 Winter Olympics.
In a victory speech, Romney praised Wilson for running a strong, positive campaign.
Romney was considered the favorite for the seat of retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, since before the formal declaration of his candidacy, as rumors had swirled for months that the nationally known Republican was considering a run for the Senate in Utah.
On Twitter, Washington Post reporter Matt Viser noted that Romney will be the first U.S. politician in 173 years to serve as governor of one state and U.S. senator from another.
“Last to accomplish the feat was Sam Houston,” Viser wrote, “who was Tennessee governor before his legendary exploits in Texas, where he also won election to U.S. Senate in 1846."
On the campaign trail, Romney repeatedly stated that his priorities include reduction of the national deficit and a return to traditional budgetary procedures. He also has advocated for immigration reform, pitching a merit-based system combined with a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border and legal protections for the so-called “Dreamers,” a group of U.S. residents who were illegally brought into the country as children.
Romney reiterated those priorities in his election-night speech and described his victory as a call for greater dignity and respect in national politics.
“I will work with good men and women in both parties to serve the cause of America’s enduring greatness,” Romney said. “And I will endeavor to conduct myself in a manner that is consistent with the values of our great state and with our national character.”
Wilson, speaking before a gathering of Utah Democrats at a Salt Lake City hotel, said she leaves the race proud, pleased and grateful.
“I’m proud to be part of a legacy of women leaders,” she said.
She said the two objectives of her candidacy were, first, to return a Senate seat to the people of Utah after being held for more than 40 years by a single person — Hatch — and, second, to “make a difference.”
“I wanted to provide a voice for people who felt that they had been left behind by an all-Republican delegation,” Wilson said. “While one objective was not met, the other certainly was.”
Romney’s win was part of a good night for Republican Senate candidates nationally, who retained majority control of the chamber.
The senator-elect, a leader of the “Never Trump” movement in 2016, has since become an occasional critic of President Donald Trump, including in a recent essay that criticized Trump’s attitude toward and characterizations of the media as the “enemy of the people.”
Romney has said that he will support the president when Trump and his administration are advancing the interests of Utah and the nation but is not opposed to condemning instances of racism, sexism and bigotry — if and when they occur.
Also at Romney’s victory party were Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Mike Lee. Lee predicted that with Romney and a continued Republican majority, the Senate would accomplish great things.
“Thank you to Utah for electing this good man,” Lee said. “I look forward to working with him.”
Final and official vote totals will be released by the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office later this month after a canvass of county and state election results.
Cara MacDonald and Zachary Aedo contributed to this report.