SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is already playing a role in the 2020 presidential race, with speculation surfacing Wednesday that the state's newest senator, Mitt Romney, may challenge President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination.
The talk of another Romney run for president, fueled by Romney's op-ed in The Washington Post that said Trump "has not risen to the mantle of the office," was shot down by the senator-elect himself.
"I am certainly not going to do that," Romney told the Deseret News. "As you know, I've run twice before. I'm not doing it again. And I'm not doing anything to position myself in that regard."
But Romney said he's not ready yet to back a second term for Trump. Asked if another Republican should take on the president in next year's primaries, he said he wouldn't suggest to someone else that they should run.
"That's a very personal decision on their part," Romney said. "We'll see whether someone decides to run or not. I'm going to wait and see what the alternatives are before I make up my mind about who I'm going to support."
In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Romney credited Trump with being able to win the White House. "I acknowledge the president was successful and I was not. He did something I couldn't do. He won. I recognize that and appreciate that."
Romney's statements come as reports suggest he is being urged to try again for the White House after losing bids in 2008 and in 2012, when he faced off against then-President Barack Obama as the GOP nominee.
The Washington Post quoted a veteran Republican financier who requested anonymity as saying, "There is going to be a real race against Trump in 2020 if it keeps going like this."
The same source told the Post some of Romney's biggest donors are ready to support him should he want to run. Romney has continued to bring his backers together annually at a high-profile political retreat at Deer Valley Resort in Park City.
Spencer Zwick, who raised $1 billion for Romney's last presidential run and is a close adviser, "routinely fields calls from donors urging Romney to look hard at 2020," according to the Post.
Others tied to Romney, including former adviser Mike Murphy, have promoted him as an alternative to Trump, the newspaper said.
Murphy said on a conservative podcast that while Trump is "like a bumbling incompetent in many ways," Romney is the opposite, a Republican who is a "super-confident, safe, no drama choice."
Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers told the Deseret News Tuesday that Romney's criticisms in the op-ed, including that "the Trump presidency made a deep descent in December," shouldn't be seen as a signal of his political intentions.
"Sensationalist pundits may try to turn this op-ed into some suggestion that Mitt is posturing for a potential presidential run. It is not," Jowers said. "Mitt's words today are consistent with everything he has said over the past several years about President Trump."
Romney took on Trump during the Republican primary in 2016, in a speech delivered at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics that labeled the then-candidate as a phony and a fraud.
Trump went on to finish a distant third in Utah's Republican presidential caucus vote that year, trailing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. In the 2016 presidential race, Trump won Utah but with his lowest margin of victory nationwide.
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said it's too soon to say what the next presidential election will look like in Utah — and whether there's a role for Romney.
"I haven't seen any evidence that he is seriously preparing to run in 2020 at this point. Everything I've seen indicates that he's taking very seriously his preparations to be a senator," Karpowitz said.
That won't stop Romney's name from being mentioned alongside other potential GOP contenders, including Kasich and outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of Trump's toughest critics in the Senate.
"I think the door is open for sure if he wants to do it," Karpowitz said of Romney, even if he's not seen as eager. "Mostly, it's because there are conservative donors and commentators who are itching to find someone to take up this banner."
In 2016, Utah got a lot of attention from both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. Polling before Utah's March caucuses suggested the state could back a Democrat for president for the first time in more than 50 years.
While that didn't happen, Democrats eyeing a 2020 race aren't ignoring Utah, even though the last candidate from their party to win the state was then-President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the first of some 30 Democrats considering a 2020 presidential run to set up an exploratory committee late last year, has already raised money in Utah.
Warren held a June 2018 fundraiser at an upscale restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City attended by Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and other Utah Democrats during what was described as a presidential campaign-style swing though the West.
And former Vice President Joe Biden's recent appearance at the University of Utah was the lead of a New York Times story about his presidential aspirations, noting Biden declined to take a $100,000 speaking fee because it might seem distasteful.51 comments on this story
At the U., Biden never addressed the possibility he would run, something he'd planned to do in 2016 but decided against after the death of his son from brain cancer. But it was announced while he was on stage he was waiving his fee.
Karpowitz said while both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are likely to make stops in the state to raise money, it's not clear Utahns will see much campaigning.
"It depends on if there is a significant challenger to President Trump. If there is, Utah could easily be at the center of the opposition," Karpowitz said. "If it is Mitt Romney, he's going to get overwhelming support in a Republican primary."