SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney has been making calls to Utah Republican lawmakers over the past couple of days seeking their support for the U.S. Senate campaign he now intends to launch Friday.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, announced in a tweet Thursday he'd talked to Romney.
"I think he's been calling a lot of legislators to let us know he is going to run and would appreciate our support," Weiler said. "I told him he has it, so I'm excited he's running."
Romney canceled plans to announce his Senate bid in an online video message Thursday in light of the deadly school shooting in Florida. He now intends to release the video Friday morning and make a public appearance with Utahns before heading to a Utah County Republican Party fundraising dinner in Provo.
Weiler said he brought up comments made recently by Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson about Romney's ties to the state. Anderson compared Romney's run in Utah to Hillary Clinton's successful bid in 2000 to be New York's senator.
Romney "said he'd talked to Rob and that he would be sitting with him tomorrow night at the Lincoln Day Dinner in Provo," Weiler said. "I just said I hoped he'd give (Anderson) a second chance because I think he's a great guy."
Anderson released a statement apologizing for comments that he said "came across as disparaging or unsupportive," even though that wasn't his intent.
"I’ve no doubt that Mitt Romney satisfies all qualifications to run for Senate, and as chairman of the Utah Republican Party, I will treat all candidates equally to ensure their path to the party nomination is honest and fair," he said.
The Republican Party leader said he spoke Wednesday to Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
"He was extremely gracious. In a time when many choose to react without knowing all of the facts, I am grateful he reached out to me to discuss this matter, and even more so that he accepted my apology without hesitation," Anderson said.
Utah House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said it's "silly" to say Romney isn't a Utahn. He recalled having lunch with Romney two years ago where they talked about Silicon Slopes, air quality, transportation and other issues. He said Romney was well-versed but also brought a national perspective.
Wilson said the two more recently spent a couple of hours in his office talking about public policy in Utah.
"He had a lot of questions, but more importantly, he had a lot of insight that was helpful for me," Wilson said.
GOP State Auditor John Dougall, who said he's seriously thinking about getting into the race, said Utahns ought to think about what they want from their senator.
"We need to understand where Mr. Romney stands before we decide where he’ll sit," he said.
Dougall said if he gets in the race, he can "100 percent guarantee" that conversation would be had. But he also said he knows his odds of winning are slim given Romney's name recognition, likeability among Utahns and "piles of money."
Senators were checking their phones for missed messages as news spread of Romney's calls to lawmakers Thursday.
"I was impressed with the fact he was reaching out for my input," said Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, who wasn't able to answer his phone when Romney called because he was presenting a bill on the Senate floor.
Adams said he's "got a list of what the federal government might do" that he plans to share with Romney, who is looking to replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"Hatch was very, very helpful to Utah," Adams said. "We need someone who will follow up."
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said he received a call from Romney, who "wanted to say hello and that he would be in my district tomorrow night."
"I believe Mitt has the temperament and skills to effectively represent Utah in the U.S. Senate, and I shared that opinion with him," Bramble said.
Advisers to Romney say he intends to run a hyperlocal campaign and carefully skirt questions about President Donald Trump, whom he criticized during and after the 2016 election.
"I think the most important thing for Mitt is to run a Utah-centric campaign," longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers said, adding that Romney has longstanding ties to the state and is now a full-time resident. "He has such a national name that I think Utahns will want to see his fluency with Utah issues and his passion for representing Utah."
Romney has named MJ Henshaw, a veteran of Utah politics who worked for former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, as his communications director. He also hired Salt Lake-based Y2 Analytics as his polling firm.
As for Trump, Jowers said the president on "several, maybe most issues," represents conservative Republican values.
"Where I feel like Trump strays the most from Republican values are not necessarily policies but tone and temperament and tweets. The three Ts of Trump are very terrible to me. I think Romney will not define himself at all via Trump," he said.
Jowers said if Trump enacts policies in line with conservative Utah values, Romney would be next to him on the frontlines.
"But when Trump becomes unnecessarily divisive or offensive, I think he'll probably see Mitt continue to be the voice of reason and conscience for the Republican Party," he said.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, also received a call from Romney.
Hughes, a strong Trump supporter, earlier said that in a conversation last fall, Romney expressed a "strong desire" to work with Trump to get things done.
"My comfort level really rose as we discussed that," he said.
Gov. Gary Herbert said he expects Romney would try to earn Utahns' votes, and show he understands and respects the election process in the state, "so I would think he would probably go to convention and present his case of why he will be a good, by the way remember this, United States senator from Utah."
"We have people making all kinds of comments as if somehow he won’t represent Utah," the governor said. "But as you know, our senators represent the nation. They happen to reside here in Utah."
Romney understands national issues, "so he's certainly well-prepared," Herbert said.16 comments on this story
Senate Minority Assistant Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said she's excited for a race between Romney and Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, a Democrat.
"Jenny has not only been in Utah, she's lived here her entire life," Escamilla said, joking during the Senate availability about whether Romney was calling lawmakers from a Massachusetts phone number.
"People may underestimate constituents. They can see through it," she said of the questions raised about Romney's connections to the state. "I think constituents in Utah want something different."