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Could First Mormon Presidential Candidate Lose Utah?

Could First Mormon Presidential Candidate Lose Utah?

Yyou don’t belong here.”

Those were the words of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) to freshman Rep. and fabulist George Santos (R-NY) in an exchange before President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. Romney later reiterated his criticism, calling Santos “a sick puppy.”

Santos, who is criticized for fabricating much of his resume, also had a few words for Romney, though most were lost in the roar of the crowd. The next day, Santos told reporters that it was “reprehensible that the senator would say something like that to me in the degrading way he said it.” Santos added of Romney that “it wasn’t very Mormon of him.”


Speculation right now in Washington surrounds Santos. Will he resign or not now that his misdeeds have cost him his commission? Will further investigations create even more problems for him, including his legal problems? Would his resignation or impeachment make it even more difficult to govern the House by eliminating the narrow 222-213 Republican majority?

Yet politically, Romney, 75, may also be on shaky ground, and Santos may have tapped into that weakness.

Romney’s resume looks solid: a highly successful businessman who stepped in and saved the scandals of the 2002 Winter Olympics in the Salt Lake City area, a Republican governor of Massachusetts, the GOP presidential nominee in 2012 and since winning an open Senate seat in Utah in 2018, a senator from the only majority Mormon state in the United States.

But check the references on that resume.

Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts but was not reelected. He declined to run again in 2006, it seemed at the time, to focus on winning the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, which he lost to the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). But Romney also faced the real possibility of defeat if he had sought a second term as governor of the Bay State, a Democratic stronghold.

As the Republican standard-bearer for the presidency in 2012, Romney did not put up much of a fight against President Barack Obama. Romney garnered 206 Electoral College votes and 47.2% of the popular vote to Obama’s 332 Electoral College votes and 51.1% of the vote.

Romney had a good debate against Obama, but his campaign didn’t gain more traction. Many of Romney’s attacks on Obamacare rang hollow when it was pointed out that the 2010 health care law (the Affordable Care Act) was basically Romneycare’s script from his days as governor of Massachusetts. The untested app that Romney had touted to help Republicans get out the vote on election night didn’t work, causing Republicans to accidentally delete their own votes.

Asked if he would be willing to run for president again, Romney told the Boston Globe: “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no “.

Six years after that defeat, Romney was elected to the Senate not from Massachusetts but from the safe Republican seat of Utah, succeeding Senator Orrin Hatch, a fellow Republican and Senate President Pro Tempore, who made Hatch he was third in the line of presidential succession. Romney won the nomination in part because he was the only major party Mormon presidential candidate and was easily elected with 62.6% of the vote, which is close to the percentage of Latter-day Saints in Utah.

The conventional national wisdom was that Romney could hold that seat for as long as he saw fit, since Hatch had held it for 42 years. However, while Utah is a solidly Republican state, primary and general election voters have shown striking independence in recent years.

Although former President Donald Trump won there in 2016, he only got 45.5% of the vote, not because Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton did particularly well, but because independent candidate Evan McMullin got 21, 5% of the votes. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) faced a tough re-election campaign in 2022, also against McMullin, winning only 55.2% of the primary vote. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R-UT) tried to regain office in 2020, but failed to make it through the primary.

Although Romney did well in Utah’s 2018 general election, he narrowly lost the Republican state nominating convention to state representative Mike Kennedy. Since neither reached the 60% threshold, primary voters were able to push Romney over the line.

As a senator, Romney has taken to poking his fellow Republicans in the eye. He twice voted to impeach Trump, for example, and has sided with Democrats on a number of issues, including marching for the Black Lives Matter movement and most recently bashing Santos in a joint session of Congress .

Some Republicans can get away with this kind of belligerence toward select members of their own party. McCain was famous for this. So does Trump. But Romney’s schtick may be wearing a little thin with Utahns. A November Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll of Utah voters found that 51.3 percent of the local population thought “definitely not” or “probably not” he should run for re-election.


So far, there is no declared Republican challenger against Romney for the party’s Senate nomination in 2024. And there is plenty of time for a non-Romney field to develop, with the filing deadline more than a year away in March 2024.

But state Attorney General Sean Reyes has been making noises about jumping into the fray. Expect them to grow louder the more Romney diverges from Senate GOP orthodoxy.

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