Utah Senate hopeful Mitt Romney was narrowly defeated at Saturday’s state GOP convention and will be forced into a June primary, a setback in his political comeback bid.
Romney, who was the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, is still heavily favored to win the seat from which longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is retiring. But on Saturday, his path became slightly more complicated when he fell short at the convention to state Rep. Mike Kennedy. According to The Associated Press, Romney received 49 percent to Kennedy’s 51 percent.
Romney had already qualified for the June 26 primary ballot because he filed the needed number of signatures, the only candidate in the GOP field to have done so. But had he received 60 percent of the vote at the convention, he could have won the Republican nomination outright and avoided the two-month primary battle.
Instead, he will face Kennedy, who has cast himself as a conservative-minded outsider.
“Thank you to all the delegates who hung in there with us all day at the Convention,” Romney tweeted on Saturday evening. “I appreciate the support I received and look forward to the primary election.”
The convention process draws the state’s most ardent activists, and typically favors conservative candidates like Kennedy over more mainstream ones like Romney. Success in the convention has not always translated into success in the primary, which draws a broader swath of the Republican electorate. In 2016, incumbent GOP Gov. Gary Herbert lost the April convention to Overstock.com Chairman Jonathan Johnson before crushing Johnson in the June primary.
Still, Romney had hoped to win the convention outright. Since launching his Senate campaign in February, he has crisscrossed the state on his truck and met with delegates in the state’s 29 counties.
Hoping to woo conservatives, he toned down his past criticisms of President Donald Trump and focused instead on Utah-specific issues. Shortly after launching his campaign, he received Trump’s endorsement.
Romney heads into the primary with a massive cash advantage over Kennedy. Through the end of March, Romney had $1.1 million on hand compared to Kennedy’s $257,000. Romney has received contributions from a number of prominent Republicans who make up his donor network. Among the givers, according to campaign filings, was former President George W. Bush.
The winner of the Republican primary is expected to face Democrat Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County councilwoman, in the general election.