The Utah Republican Party chairman blasted Mitt Romney’s anticipated Senate run, hitting him for “essentially doing what Hillary Clinton did in New York” — campaigning in a state he hasn’t spent much time in.
“I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because let’s face it Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here,” Rob Anderson told The Salt Lake Tribune in an interview.
It’s highly unusual for a party chairman to criticize a potential candidate. And Anderson’s comments come just hours before Romney is expected to make his announcement online Thursday morning. If he declares, he’d be the instant front-runner and presumptive nominee.
Still, Anderson, who is generally seen as a moderate voice within the Utah GOP, suggested that Romney is just “using name recognition to win a seat.”
“I have two questions for Mitt. First of all, why? And how do you expect to represent Utah when you don’t live here?”
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, carried Utah in the 2012 presidential election by nearly 50 points over President Barack Obama. He made the state his official residence in 2013 and actively votes as a Holladay resident.
A Salt Lake Tribune poll from January showed he would handily win the seat being vacated by Sen. Orrin Hatch. Some 64 percent of those surveyed said they’d back Romney while 19 percent chose Democrat Jenny Wilson. And supporters quickly rushed to his defense. Former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, for one, called him “Utah’s favorite son.”
That gives Anderson some heartburn. There were three or four other “good, conservative people” that planned to run, he said, declining to give names, but they didn’t feel they had a chance against Romney, who “has been poaching all of the talent as far as campaign and messaging and financing.”
“Nobody wants to go out there like David and Goliath and get defeated by the Romney machine,” he said.
And Anderson isn’t sure Romney would represent the party well, either. “He has never been a Trump supporter,” he said. “I just want somebody to support the party platforms.”
A spokesperson for Romney did not respond to a request for comment.
Before Hatch announced he would not seek re-election this year, the senator joked that he might be willing to step aside if Romney wanted to give elective office another try. He said Wednesday that while he likes Anderson “quite a bit,” he has to “strongly disagree with him here.”
“Mitt has been a household name in Utah for decades, his family history goes back to Mormon pioneers, and he’s done a lot for our state,” Hatch said. “I urged him to run because I think he is a once-in-a-generation public servant, and I have no doubt he’ll represent our state and interests well.”
Chaffetz, too, questioned whether Anderson is “familiar with Mitt Romney’s history.”
“He did graduate from Brigham Young University. He did come in and live here and help save the Olympics in 2002,” he said. “He’s had a home here for quite some time. His ties to Utah are deeper than they are in Massachusetts. … If he had become the president we certainly would be claiming him.”
The Salt Lake Tribune will update this story throughout the day.
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