Sen. Bennett launches ads featuring Romney

Facing the prospect of a primary challenge that is expected to launch this week, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) is up with an early ad featuring former presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R).

The ad features clips of Romney praising Bennett as a “conservative giant” and states flatly that Romney supports Bennett.

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Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (R) is scheduled to make an announcement Wednesday, and some errant Twitter messages from last week make it clear that he will enter the primary against Bennett.

Bennett’s ads are a gambit to discourage Shurtleff from taking the plunge.

Featuring Romney, the most prominent Mormon politician in the country and the CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, sends a strong signal in heavily Mormon Utah. In the 2008 presidential contest, Romney was virtually unopposed in the state and wound up taking 90 percent of the vote in its Feb. 5 primary.

Bennett has polled far ahead of Shurtleff in a head-to-head matchup, but Utah holds nominating conventions where party activists can bypass the primary process if 60 percent select one candidate.

Shurtleff might have an alternative to the Senate race now, though, after Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) was announced as President Obama’s selection for Ambassador to China. Shurtleff has previously shown interest in and polled the governor’s race, which would be moved up two years to 2010 after Huntsman’s resignation.

Bennett endorsed Romney for president, while Shurtleff backed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Romney has already endorsed Bennett's reelection bid.