Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has disclosed that he personally spoke with former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts about his potential bid for a Utah senate seat in the 2018 mid-term elections.
There has been growing speculation that Romney is exploring the possibility of mounting a campaign in the event that Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah decides not to seek re-election. A popular politician in the Beehive State, Romney would be considered a likely front-runner and also a potential thorn in the side of President Donald Trump.
On April 7, McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill that he would not pressure Hatch toward retiring, but that he had discussed the the possibility with Romney.
"I've had some conversations with Mitt Romney," McConnell said, according to the Associated Press. "Obviously, I'm an Orrin Hatch supporter. Orrin has to decide what he wants to do. If he wants to run again, I'm for him."
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83-year-old Hatch has indicated that he plans on seeking re-election, but has also expressed an openness to Romney as his successor.
"I'm planning on running, but if I for some reason withdrew, I'd be thrilled if Mitt Romney would be willing to consider it," Hatch said. The Utah lawmaker added that he would like to avoid a contentious GOP primary and that he believed Romney would be "excellent."
On Jan. 26, a poll conducted by the Salt Lake Tribune of the Hinckley Institute of Politics found that 78 percent of Utah voters did not want Hatch to seek re-election, The Blaze reports.
Several high-profile Utah Republicans have been touted as potential challengers for Hatch in 2018, including former Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, Sutherland Institute president Boyd Matheson, World Trade Center Utah CEO Derek Miller and Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah.
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Romney's potential candidacy could reverse the prospect of Hatch's seat being subject to a contentious primary. Hal Boyd, the opinion editor of the Salt Lake City-based Deseret News, believes that Romney would steamroll any competition.
"It would be the easiest Senate bid in the history of the United States of America," Boyd told The Atlantic.
70-year-old Romney has not publicly commented on the speculation, but an anonymous close friend believes that the former governor would be eager to enter the political arena again.
"I do think he's bored," the Romney associate said. "He loves playing with his grandkids and he loves Ann, but... I don't think Mitt has anything in his life right now that he's very passionate about."
Romney's potential return to politics could be an irritant for the president. During the GOP presidential primary, Romney had been among Trump's most vocal critics. In March 2016, Romney held a press conference to urge Republican voters to turn their backs on the business mogul.
"Here's what I know," Romney said, according to The Washington Post. "Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University."
While Trump ultimately won the state of Utah in the general election, Romney's opposition towards him would likely not be a deal breaker in 2018. In October 2016, a Monmouth University poll found that only 19 percent of Utah voters had a favorable opinion of Trump, while 71 percent viewed him unfavorably.
Meanwhile, Romney has been historically popular in the Beehive State. During the 2012 presidential race, the former GOP nominee won Utah by 48 percentage points.
One anonymous senior Republican believes that if Romney were to be elected into the Senate, he would be an influential opponent against the Trump administration.
"It would be an opportunity for Mitt to represent the Utah style of Republicanism... and present a strong challenge to the president," the senior Republican said.