Mitt Romney, the GOP’s presidential candidate in 2012 and a former governor of Massachusetts, announced Friday that he was running for the U.S. Senate "because I believe I can help bring Utah’s values and Utah’s lessons to Washington."
“Given all that America faces, we feel that this is the right time for me to serve our state and our country,” Romney said in a video announcing his bid.
Romney pointed to Utah's balanced budget and trade surplus as examples of the state's strengths, comparing them with Washington's debt and trade deficit.
“Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in Washington,” Romney said.
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Romney, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, also appeared to take some veiled shots at the commander in chief, drawing distinctions between attitudes in his state on immigration and Trump's hardline policy proposals as well as noting a difference in tone in political language.
“Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world,” Romney said. “Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”
“And on Utah’s Capitol Hill, people treat one another with respect,” he added.
Romney’s announcement had been widely expected. He was originally scheduled to make an announcement about the the Senate race on Thursday, but postponed it after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday.
Last month, some of his top advisers met to plot out his next steps, including hiring staff and potentially planning a drive to gather signatures so that he can qualify for the ballot.
Romney, who grew up in Michigan, has a home in Utah and deep ties to the state, including through his Mormon faith. He was credited with rescuing the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and he has a network of well-placed political supporters in the state.
The Senate seat Romney, who will be 71 next month, is running for is currently held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, a fellow Republican who announced last month that he will not seek election to an eighth term.
If Romney were to win the seat, he could become a powerful foe of the White House in the Senate GOP caucus. However, a Romney confidante told NBC News last month it is unlikely he would take that approach.
The relationship between the last two Republican presidential nominees, however, has ranged from caustic to barely cordial over the course of Trump's political career. During the 2016 GOP primary, Romney called Trump a "phony" and a "fraud" and said he was "playing the members of the American public for suckers."
Utah leans heavily Republican, but has not been friendly to Trump. He came in third in the state's GOP caucuses in 2016. And in the general election, more than 20 percent of Utah residents opted to vote for former CIA officer Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent, anti-Trump protest candidate.
Polls show Romney would start his Senate campaign as the overwhelming favorite in the race. He led 64 percent to 19 percent over Democrat Jenny Wilson in a survey released by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah Hinckley Institute for Politics last month.