SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney said in a tweet Thursday he is finally making a long-awaited announcement Feb. 15 about running for the Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"Looking forward to making an announcement on February 15th about the Utah Senate race," Romney tweeted Thursday afternoon, after avoiding the question of his intentions for nearly a month.
Even though his tweet doesn't specifically spell out that he's a candidate, there seems to be little doubt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, will announce he's in the race.
"It's the surprise of the century, right? Who would have thought Mitt Romney is going to run for the Senate from Utah," said Derek Miller, a Republican who considered running for the seat.
Miller, president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah, said he is "convinced Mitt Romney is going to be the next senator from Utah" and is ready to help him get elected.
State Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said Romney has been effective in keeping other Republicans from getting in the race, even though his announcement is coming relatively late.
"I can't believe he hasn't announced by now. But because of the rumors, nobody else is really stepping up," Niederhauser said. "Obviously, he has a corner on that market."
The Democrat already in the race, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, took a jab at Romney's various residences over the years, suggesting she will make that a campaign issue.
Hatch announced in early January he would not seek an eighth term in the Senate this year. Romney, who had been talked about as a candidate for much of the past year, was expected to announce soon after.
But even though Romney has been making speeches to groups in Utah, he has been unwilling to talk about the race until now.
Those close to Romney, however, have been clear that he is running. Kem Gardner, a longtime friend, told the Deseret News in January Romney was waiting to announce until he could put together his campaign.
Gardner said then Romney would publicly announce he was in the race "hopefully, before the end of the month."
Miller said he believed Romney's campaign didn't announce sooner because "what they've really been working on is getting their national messaging down" in a race expected to attracted national attention.
Romney has been one of President Donald Trump's toughest critics. During the 2016 Republican primaries, Romney labeled Trump a fraud and a phony in a nationally covered speech and urged voters to choose another nominee.
"I think you're going to see the national media want to position this as Trump vs. Romney. I don't think that that's accurate, by the way," Miller said.
He said Romney did not even mention Trump by name in a recent speech at the 2018 Economic and Public Policy Summit that included praise for the administration's tax reform efforts.
A state senator behind "Recruit Romney," an effort to encourage Romney to run that collected nearly 9,000 signatures online, said he was "hopeful and optimistic" about the upcoming announcement.
Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, said he'd like to believe Romney hearing from "just normal Utahns is motivating." His website promised that as a senator, Romney would take his national influence to Washington, D.C., to advocate for Utah.
Romney's own website, mittromney.com, simply asks visitors to sign up to "Join Team Mitt."
It's likely not a coincidence that Feb. 15 falls during the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Games begin Feb. 9 and go through Feb. 25.
Romney, who spent much of his professional life in Massachusetts, where he served as governor, is best known in Utah for turning around the scandal-tainted 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.35 comments on this story
The Olympics "are near and dear to our hearts. And 2002 endeared Mitt to the hearts of the people of Utah for his great effort and great leadership," Fraser Bullock, the chief operating officer of the Salt Lake Games said.
"Tying the two together, his potential political future in Utah with his wonderful legacy of the Olympics here is very fitting," said Bullock, a leader of a group exploring a new Winter Games bid for Salt Lake.
Considered one of Utah's most popular politicians, Romney is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Utah County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner on Feb. 16. Tickets start at $55 and go up to $750 for a table.