SALT LAKE CITY — With House Speaker Paul Ryan's announcement Wednesday that he won't run for re-election, there's no longer any chance that Senate candidate Mitt Romney will serve in Washington, D.C., with his former running mate.
It's not clear what, if any, impact the speaker's decision to leave Congress will have on Romney's current race for the Senate seat held by retiring Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, even though it's seen as signaling trouble for Republicans in the midterm elections.
Romney's campaign had no comment Wednesday, but the candidate took to Twitter to praise Ryan.
"Love of country compelled Paul Ryan to accept the speakership, a role he alone could fill at a critical time. He unified the House, passed scores of bills, and led with integrity, honor and dignity. The country will miss Speaker Ryan," Romney tweeted.
In the 2012 presidential race, Romney was the Republican Party's nominee for president and chose Ryan, a leading conservative congressman from Wisconsin, to join him on the GOP ticket.
Three years later, Ryan somewhat reluctantly took over the top congressional leadership spot when then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, abruptly resigned.
While Romney was one of now-President Donald Trump's harshest critics during the 2016 race for the White House, there have been some complaints that Ryan hasn't stood up to the often controversial president.
Ryan's departure should be seen as a "red alert" to Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
But Karpowitz, a political science professor, said Romney could be an exception.
"This is sort of a pre-emptive warning shot for how difficult the environment is for Republicans right now. Is this going to affect Mitt Romney's prospects in the state of Utah? Not really," he said, calling Romney a "heavy favorite" to win in November.
Romney qualified Wednesday for a place on the June primary ballot through gathering voter signatures, but will face off against the 11 other Republican candidates in the race at the Utah GOP state convention April 21.
Earlier this year, shortly before Romney got in the race in mid-February, Gov. Gary Herbert mused about the possibility of his party's 2012 presidential ticket presiding over the U.S. House and Senate.
"In my wildest dreams, I can see (Romney) becoming the majority leader in the Senate and Paul Ryan still being speaker of the House. Think about it, Romney and Ryan leading in the Congress,” the governor said then.
While many Utah Republicans shared Herbert's hopes, Karpowitz said they were never likely to come true.
"It's not clear how much they would have worked together," he said. "The notion that Romney was going to partner with Ryan to pass legislation was probably more wishful thinking than reality."
As a freshman senator should he win, Romney would have little chance to be elected to Senate leadership or to replace Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Karpowitz said.
Still, he said, Ryan's decision would not diminish the role Romney would play.
"No matter what, he will be a prominent voice just given the fact that he was the Republican standard-bearer in 2012. Whether or not Mitt Romney holds a leadership position, Romney will be someone who will be a strong voice," Karpowitz said.
Members of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation reacted quickly Wednesday to Ryan's decision to leave Congress at the end of his term.
"I think it's bittersweet," said Rep. Mia Love, who was assigned Ryan as her congressional mentor. Ryan "calls himself my (LDS Church) home teacher here in Congress. He knows what that means," she said on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."
She said Ryan "is anything but a lame duck speaker" and his announcement will allow him to "call out the president when he disagrees" and stay more separated from the GOP administration.
Rep. John Curtis, elected last November to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz after Chaffetz resigned and became a Fox News contributor, brought up that Ryan said he chose not to run for re-election and then step down before his next term expired even though that might have been politically expedient.
"Few people, if any, are more genuine than Paul Ryan," Curtis told Wright.
Chaffetz, who briefly sought the House speakership in 2015 but deferred to Ryan, said he didn't take Ryan's remarks personally even though he left office six months into his fifth term.
"Good for him. I'm glad he's doing that. But my life situation changed over time and I made the decision that was right at the time," Chaffetz said.
He also said he believed Ryan's leaving wouldn't impact Romney's race.
"I think (Romney) would have truly enjoyed having Paul Ryan as speaker while he was the senator. They're obviously friends and work well together," Chaffetz said. "But Mitt Romney won't have any trouble making new friends."
Rep. Chris Stewart said Ryan "is one of the most decent men I’ve ever met."
He said Romney's Senate bid shouldn't be affected by Ryan leaving.
"I think Mitt feels the same way that all of us just feel. We are going to miss Paul and we have tremendous respect for him," Stewart said. "But I don't see that it would impact either his race or really, what he would hope to accomplish."
Rep. Rob Bishop, appointed by Ryan last year to head up the Speaker's Task Force on Intergovernmental Affairs, said, "Right now, I'm in a state of denial. I hate to see him go."26 comments on this story
Bishop said Ryan "led the House through some of the most momentous accomplishments in recent history" including the $1.5 trillion tax cut passed just before Christmas and increased military spending.
Hatch said in a statement that Ryan "has been a dear friend for a number of years, and I’m proud of everything we have been able to accomplish together. He didn’t ask for the job he has; he answered the call to serve and led us from one legislative victory to another. Our nation is better off today because of Paul Ryan."