Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney is surrounded by family as he speaks during an election night event in Orem on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Boston political commentator has some thoughts about what Utahns could see from his old governor and their new U.S. senator.

WGBH News columnist David S. Bernstein wrote a column Wednesday titled, "Dear Utah … What To Expect When You're Expecting Mitt Romney."

"Been there, done that, as they say," he wrote. "This is a friendly letter from Massachusetts — until this week, the only jurisdiction to ever elect Romney to any office."

Jeffrey D. Allred
U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann shake hands during an election night event in Orem on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

Massachusetts voters also rejected Romney once in his bid to unseat Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994.

Romney evened his election record Tuesday to 2-2, coasting to victory in Utah over Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson. He said he was "humbled" by the support and vowed to represent the state with dignity, integrity and "in a manner that will make you proud."

The Republican senator-elect will attend freshman orientation in Washington next week.

In the column, Bernstein offers a few observations from Romney's term as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

"To be sure, Romney is a different guy now than he was when he was our governor," he said. "Heck, given his predilection for convenient evolution, he’s probably a different guy now than he was a few months ago. … "

Bernstein writes that as governor, Romney shunned blame for failures and took all the credit for things that went right, launched big projects that never came to fruition, effectively and quietly dispatched political enemies and showed that he "doesn't really get people."

Romney, he said, means well and there are reasons why he has had successes and why he has loyal followers. Among those traits is Romney's genuine belief in himself as a good guy.

Utahns, he wrote, wont have to worry about Romney being on the take and that he won't put up with scandal or misbehavior around him. Romney believes his political calculations are to put himself into a position to serve people better, Bernstein wrote.

"That’s not the worst thing in a politician," Bernstein concluded. "Besides, if it doesn’t work out, he’ll probably just move on to another place and forget all about you. At least, that was our experience with Mitt Romney. Good luck!"

Romney didn't seek a second term in Massachusetts to pursue the Republican nomination for president in 2008, losing to the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

After his 2012 presidential loss, Romney moved his primary residence to Utah. He jumped into the Senate race at the urging of retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, whom he will replace.

Hatch tweeted Tuesday that Romney will "ensure Utah has a great seat at the table in the years to come."

Romney is likely to command attention well beyond his seniority in the Senate and well beyond even many members of the Republican leadership team, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

"That creates both opportunities and challenges. He has an opportunity to demonstrate a type of Republicanism that is very different in tone and style from that of Donald Trump, and he signaled that in his victory speech last night," Karpowitz said.

In his speech, Romney said regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race or place of birth, everyone is equal in the eyes of God and also in the respect and dignity they are due from government and fellow Americans.

What that will mean in terms of concrete positions on issues and his relationship with President Donald Trump remains to be seen, Karpowitz said.

Romney identified balancing the federal budget, immigration reform and returning power to the states among his priorities.

Even though Romney goes to Washington with an unusually high level of visibility, whether he is able to get things done in the Senate is still an open question, Karpowitz said.

"This is, after all, his first experience in the legislative branch, and that can be quite different from wielding power as an executive," he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Romney brings "cachet" and "common sense" to the job and that working in a divided Congress suits his skill for negotiation. The Democrats took control of the House on Tuesday, while the Republicans picked up a few seats to maintain a Senate majority.

Romney, however, isn't likely to become the next McCain or Jeff Flake or Bob Corker, three of Trump's harshest critics in the Senate. Romney distanced himself from his own biting commentary on Trump during the Senate campaign, but largely agrees with the administration's agenda.

Jeffrey D. Allred
U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney and his wife Ann pose for a photo with Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen Mike Lee during an election night event in Orem on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

Utah's new senator diverges from Trump on trade and tariffs and could put pressure on the president to take a tougher stance on Russia, which he called the biggest geopolitical threat to the U.S. during the 2012 presidential campaign.

GOP senators say they expect Romney to become a leader on international issues and believe he could end up with a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Corker, R-Tenn., and Flake, R-Ariz., will be leaving, according to The Hill.

39 comments on this story

Romney could also emerge as an influential voice on health care, according to The Hill. In Massachusetts, he helped implement a universal health care system that later became a template for the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act.

Romney argued there were distinct differences between the two plans, but in a 2015 interview with The Boston Globe he acknowledged, “Without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare.”

During his Utah campaign, Romney favored replacing Obamacare with flexibility for states to use Medicaid funds to run their own programs for caring for the poor. He also promoted market-based incentives to reduce medical costs as well as cost-sharing insurance policies and health savings accounts.