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Romney’s failure to secure Utah nomination points to continued struggles for GOP mainstream

No, Mitt. You're right. Politics ain't beanbag.

Romney is running for a U.S. Senate seat from Utah, currently held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who announced his retirement after the current term expires. (Credit: Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)
Romney is running for a U.S. Senate seat from Utah, currently held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who announced his retirement after the current term expires. (Credit: Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

Former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney failed to secure the party’s nomination for Utah’s senate race on Saturday — he came in a close second behind Utah state representative Mike Kennedy who casts himself as a conservative outsider.

No candidate secured the necessary 60 percent needed to head to the November election ballot unopposed. Receiving 49.12 percent of the vote at the end of yesterday’s GOP convention, Romney will now compete against Kennedy (who secured 50.88 percent) in a primary set for June 26.

The results are a setback for Romney’s attempts at a political comeback and serve as a reminder of his 2012 comment that “this ain’t bean bag” — a phrase dating back to the turn of the 20th century which suggests politics is a game meant only for tough men.

His failure to secure the GOP bid also highlights the continued struggles facing the party’s mainstream.

After the 2016 presidential election saw a groundswell of support for political outsiders on both sides with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, it has not been easy for mainstream candidates to push through.

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And now, on the heels of the Roy Moore and Rick Saccone debacles, national Republicans are starting to worry about the party’s ability to win big in the midterms.

Most recently, they’ve been focusing their attention — through launching attack ads — on former coal baron Don Blankenship who is increasingly popular in the GOP’s West Virginia Senate primary. This is despite the fact that Blankenship is currently on probation after serving one year in federal prison for conspiring to violate mine safety standards following a deadline mine accident.

Romney went into Saturday’s GOP convention as the favored candidate — his poor performance will likely add to the party establishment’s woes.

After launching his Senate campaign in February, Romney has been meeting with delegates across the state. And his campaign has been trying to cater to conservatives by toning down his past criticism of President Trump. Throughout his Utah tour he has sought to emphasize that he agrees with Trump’s policies but takes issue with some of his extreme rhetoric.

At one point during the 2016 campaign Romney billed himself as a “Never-Trumper” during a speech in which he called the presidential nominee a “fraud” and a “cheat.” Romney has also criticized Trump’s response to Charlottesville, saying the president’s comments at the time caused “racists to rejoice.”

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After previously saying he wouldn’t accept an endorsement from the president, in February Romney happily accepted Trump’s support for his Senate bid.

And during a Republican event at the end of March, Romney said he is more conservative on immigration than the president is — a position which doesn’t match his previous statements.

“I’m also more of a hawk on immigration than even the president,” he told the event’s audience. “My view was these DACA kids shouldn’t be allowed to stay in the country legally.”

On Saturday, Romney told CNN he didn’t know yet whether he would support Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, leaving him room to promote himself as an independent voice for Utah.

“As a person of political experience, if I endorse someone, I’ll want to know what’s in it for Utah and what help would he provide for us on key priorities in Utah,” he said. “So, I’m not a cheap date.”

Romney will head into the June primary with substantially more money than his competitor — at the end of March he had $1.1 million compared to Kennedy’s $257,000. Whoever wins, they are expected to face Democrat Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County councilwoman, in the general election.