When former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced he was running for Senate in February, few expected him to face much of a challenge.
Romney was endorsed by outgoing Senator Orrin Hatch before he even decided to run and was later endorsed by Donald Trump. And Utah is a solidly Republican state which went for Romney with 73 percent of the vote in 2012, a margin larger than that of Donald Trump’s in West Virginia in 2016.
Romney, however, has run into a bit of a roadblock. In an upset at the state Republican convention on Saturday, right-wing state representative Mike Kennedy defeated Romney 51 to 49 percent. The New York Times reported:
At the convention, Mr. Romney faced 11 other candidates, mostly political newcomers who questioned his criticism of President Trump and the depth of his ties to Utah. He had spent two months on the campaign trail visiting dairy farms, taking photos with college students and making stump speeches in small towns.
“Some people I’ve spoken with have said this is a David vs. Goliath race, but they’re wrong,” Mr. Romney said in his speech. “I’m not Goliath. Washington, D.C., is Goliath.”
Mr. Kennedy, a doctor and lawyer who has been a state lawmaker since 2013, received applause from the crowd as he criticized the national debt, Common Core education standards and President Barack Obama’s health care law. He framed himself as an underdog taking on the “Romney machine.”
The two will face off in a June 26 primary. Romney got his name on the ballot no matter what happened on Saturday, after gathering more than 28,000 signatures to get a place on the primary ballot.
As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel noted, this isn’t the first time the convention has seen a major upset. In 2010, three-term Senator Bob Bennett was ousted during the convention, finishing third behind Lee and Tim Bridgewater. Lee ultimately won the Republican nomination after a primary, and still represents Utah in the Senate to this day.
Despite the setback, Romney still has a huge advantage over Kennedy in terms of name recognition and money; according to FEC reports, Romney has outraised Kennedy nearly six-to-one and outspent him almost 17-to-1. Romney has also transferred $1 million left over from his presidential campaign, and still has money left over from that campaign.
“There’s not a real clear path for Kennedy to win this primary,” Boyd Matheson, a former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee and the opinion editor of the Deseret News, told Weigel. “He’s got a 60-day sprint against Romney, and he’s starting out with small name ID — which is not a problem for Romney.”