Mitt Romney would like you to know he’s running for Senate to represent the state of Utah, and, just to be sure, he says “Utah” 14 times in his two-minute announcement video released Friday morning.
I am running for United States Senate to serve the people of Utah and bring Utah's values to Washington. pic.twitter.com/TDkas6gD2p
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 16, 2018
“I have decided to run for United States Senate because I believe I can help bring Utah’s values and Utah’s lessons to Washington,” Romney says in the announcement video. “Utah is a better model for Washington than Washington is for Utah.” (I’d make a joke about taking a shot every time he says “Utah” but this is Utah we’re talking about.)
So what doesn’t Romney say, even once during his announcement?
Romney would like you to forget that six years ago, he courted Trump’s endorsement for his own presidential campaign “very aggressively,” and he would definitely like you to forget that — just months after a speech at the University of Utah in March of 2016 where he called Trump a “fraud” and a “phony” — he courted Trump again, this time to be his secretary of state.
But Romney doesn’t want to talk about any of that, because now, Romney wants to be the next senator from the Beehive State. He wants to bring the pioneering spirit to Washington. He wants to bring respect — the kind you see on Utah’s Capitol Hill, according to Romney — to Washington.
Romney also says he wants to bring Utah’s spirit of inclusion to Washington.
“Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world,” the former Massachusetts governor says in his announcement. “Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”
That’s another thing Romney would like you to forget — that he’s just as much to blame as anyone in the Republican party for the anti-immigrant message so central to Trump’s administration.
“My friend Gov. Perry said if you don’t agree with his position on giving that in-state tuition to illegals, that you don’t have a heart,” Romney said during the 2012 Republican primary. “I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a heart. It means that you have a heart and a brain.”
Romney also claimed that Perry’s state-based DREAM act, which allowed the children of undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition, “makes no sense” and “cannot be sustained.”
To most Utah voters, none of this really matters.
Romney, as the Republican nominee in 2012, won every county in Utah and ran away with a formidable 72.8 percent of the vote. Early polling of the 2018 race has Romney sitting around 64 percent compared to likely Democratic nominee Jenny Wilson’s 19 percent.
Romney, despite growing up in Michigan and serving as governor of Massachusetts, is Utah’s favorite son. A young Utah voter recently put it this way: Romney could run against God in Utah and he’d with 55 percent of the vote. His heavy involvement in the Mormon church means a great deal to Utahns, and his work on the Olympics is still a shining moment for the state.
Of course, Wilson isn’t God. She is, however, a Utah native. In a release welcoming Romney to the race this week, Wilson stated, “Utah families deserve a Utahn as their senator, not a Massachusetts governor who thinks of our state as his vacation home.”
Like Romney, Wilson, a member of the Salt Lake County Council, doesn’t really want to talk about Trump either. She wants to talk about inversion.
“One of the first things I do every morning is look out the window and check the inversion,” Wilson said in a phone call with ThinkProgress on Friday morning, referencing the noxious fog that often crops up in areas across the Wasatch Front mountain range. “It’s something else that Mitt Romney doesn’t understand.”
Wilson also wants to talk about overcrowded jails and the opioid crisis and coal mines closing in Price County. She wants to talk about small businesses and the fight to put food on the table — things, she said, that Romney doesn’t understand.
“What I heard from that video is he wants us to go bottle [Utah] and sell it,” Wilson said, “and that is a dangerous approach.”
Wilson announced her bid for Senate last June, and she said she didn’t care whether it was Hatch, Romney, or another Republican she’d have to face in a general election.
“You could’ve put anyone’s name on that press release this morning and it would’ve been the same,” she said of Romney’s announcement. “There was nothing innovative or new.”
Anyone catch Romney's announcement today? I've got to congratulate my friend Mitt for trying so hard to be a Utahnhttps://t.co/CBixboY2gU
— Jenny Wilson for UT (@JennyWilsonUT) February 16, 2018
By contrast, Mitchell Vice, the only other Democrat in the race, argues that Romney has made Democrats in the red state even more nervous than usual.
“Their butts are just puckered,” he joked in an interview with ThinkProgress earlier this week.
Vice’s plan — like Wilson’s — is to energize the grassroots in the state. Or, as Vice put it, “We’re just doing it balls-out…. If you’re going to win against the white horse prophecy, you better damn well have connected with people.”
Vice, who worked in advertising and communications before deciding to take up a Senate campaign, said that, like Wilson, he understands Utahns better than Romney.
“I still rent, I’ve had medical bankruptcy, I’m the everyday guy,” he said.
Vice is running to Wilson’s left, with an all-volunteer campaign inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination, and despite having raised only around $10,000, Vice says he’s confident.
“Even if we just roll into convention with $10,000 to her half a million, we’ve got a better message,” he told ThinkProgress. “She’s spent $300,000 and I’m like on what? Her website is shit.”
At any rate, if Vice can get past his Democratic rival, he said he has another pitch to Utah, voters, too — one admits is a little cheeky: “If someone wants a Mormon high priest who also served his mission in France, well, they got me,” he said.