Don Campbell/The Herald-Palladium via AP/file
WASHINGTON — Does a 70-year-old former presidential nominee really want to be the junior senator from Utah? To take office as one of the oldest first-time United States senators in history? Give up a life of water-skiing, ice cream, and grandkids for one of subcommittee hearings, roll-call votes, and partisan bickering?
Well, yes. Maybe.
Rumors persist over whether Mitt Romney may run for US Senate next year in Utah, and some people close to the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee say that he isn’t ruling out a bid for the seat.
“He has mixed feelings,” said one Romney adviser who pegged the likelihood of a run at 30 percent or 40 percent.
There are a number of considerations Romney is mulling, and no one expects him to get into the race if Senator Orrin Hatch, the seven-term senator, decides to run for reelection. But if Hatch, who is 83, decides to retire, Romney is undergoing a deliberative examination of the pros and cons of jumping into a race that he almost certainly would win.
One of the downsides is that Romney — who ran a business, ran a state, and tried to run a country — would be one of 100. Most politicians cut a strong profile in the Senate as a possible springboard to national office; Romney would be going in reverse.
Then there’s his experience as someone calling the shots, not following the consensus of a team of lawmakers.
“The guy wants to be an executive running something, not a legislator sitting through committee hearings,” one source said.
It’s hard to imagine the former governor sitting at the end position on a Senate committee, waiting hours to get his turn to ask questions of a Cabinet official. And he would likely not have enough time to build a long-lasting legacy in the chamber as have others such as Ted Kennedy, who Romney tried to unseat in Massachusetts in 1994.
But Romney, in a trait ingrained in him by his father and his faith, sees public service as a calling, a noble undertaking. And he also has a sense that he has something important to offer in a politically toxic environment. The flirtations with the Senate come as Romney is looking for another chapter, perhaps one that would thrust him to the forefront of a national political debate.
He sharply criticized Donald Trump during the Republican primary. Then he stunned his fans by agreeing to be interviewed by Trump in the president-elect’s sweepstakes for a secretary of state nominee. As Trump put his imprint on the White House, Romney — whose steady, clean-cut, curse-free life runs counter to the current White House occupant — has not held his tongue.
He has criticized President Trump over leaving the Paris climate accords. He was outspoken about Trump’s response to the Charlottesville, Va., violence. He said it was a “defining moment” and called on the president to apologize to the American public.
“Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn,” Romney wrote on his Facebook page. He warned for a possible “unraveling of our national fabric.”
Romney can attract an audience now, but the question is whether he could amplify it further and make it last if he again held office. The speculation is being stoked by Utah’s media, with stories and polls showing Romney’s strength.
“Mitt can speak out on issues in his capacity as a private citizen but obviously he would have more of a pivotal role if he was in office and able to make important decisions and serve,” said Ryan Williams, who first started working for Romney in the Massachusetts governor’s office.
“On the downside, he’s a private citizen; now he has time to enjoy his family, children, and grandkids,” he added. “He’s living a very nice life as a private citizen.”
Romney has spent time waterskiing with his family at their home in New Hampshire. When one of his granddaughters returned to Logan International Airport from her Mormon mission in late June, Romney was there in the crowd to greet her. He traveled with his family last spring to help with a humanitarian eye-screening program in Indonesia. He posted a family photo in March as he and his wife, Ann, celebrated 48 years of marriage “with some of its products.”
But he also yearns for an active role in public life.
He continues to sponsor an annual ideas summit in Park City, Utah. In June, Romney interviewed Vice President Joe Biden at the gathering.
“By the way,” Biden said, according to CNN, “you should run for Senate.”
Hatch himself tried to draft Romney as his successor in March, telling National Journal that he would consider retiring if he found someone suitable to run for his position.
“Mitt Romney would be perfect,” he said.
“I’ve expressed interest to him,” Hatch said. “I can see why he might not want to do it, but I can also see why if he did it, it would be a great thing for America.”
Weeks earlier, Romney had floated the idea of running while mentioning the 2018 Senate race during an interview with the Deseret News in Utah.
“I don’t have any predictions on what I might do,” he said. “I’m not going to open a door and I’m not going to close a door. All doors are open.”
When family and friends see quotes like that, they have a mixture of emotions, hoping Romney will return to the spotlight but also worried that being a low-ranking senator might not be the right fit.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said in April that he had spoken with Romney about potentially running, a conversation first revealed in an Atlantic story that said Romney was considering running.
A political website in Utah on Monday ran an anonymously sourced story saying that Romney was planning to run if Hatch did not. The site, UtahPolicy.com, also released a poll showing that Romney would trounce leading Democratic candidate Jenny Wilson, 64-to-26. The poll showed Hatch losing to Wilson, 34-to-45.
“As much as we love to support our local media outlets, this is the third or fourth time we have seen this same report without any new sources or any new information,” said a Hatch spokesman, Matt Whitlock. “Nothing has changed, Senator Hatch is focused on the critical work of the Senate, and he plans to make a final decision by the end of the year.”
Still, by delaying any decision, Hatch is freezing the field and potentially leaving the door open for Romney, who could quickly activate his old fund-raising network.
The race would likely be easily winnable for Romney. He is well-liked in the state, where he has strong ties. A majority of its population shares Romney’s Mormon faith, and many remember how he went to Salt Lake City to salvage the Olympics from bankruptcy.
Romney has also considered the effect on his sons, whose political careers he is hoping to foster. Josh Romney is seen as the likeliest to run for office, with sights likely on the Utah governor’s office. Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s term ends in 2020 and he has suggested that he won’t run for reelection.
Romney has grown used to the will-he-or-won’t-he questions and he often invites the narrative of others pushing him into politics.
He often told a story about how it was Ann Romney’s prodding that got him to first run for US Senate in 1993, even as he pulled the covers over his head and said, “No! No! I don’t want to do it.”
In the lead-up to the 2012 presidential race, the story went, he told his family he did not want to run, and was only later convinced by their pleading with him to do so.
Once again, some are pleading for Romney to run, to seize the mantle of political leadership. And Romney, as always, can’t help listening.
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