Romney makes Utah Senate bid official

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Health Care: Bill banning 'gag clauses' on drugs heads to Trump's desk | Romney opposes Utah Medicaid expansion | GOP candidate under fire over ad on pre-existing conditions Romney opposes Utah's Medicaid expansion ballot measure Maher makes million donation to Democratic Senate super PAC MORE has launched his long-awaited bid for a Utah Senate seat.

He made the announcement Friday in an online video and has a seemingly clear path to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP divide in Congress over Rosenstein's future Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week Republicans hire female attorney to handle Kavanaugh, Ford questioning MORE.

Romney, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee who has emerged as a vocal critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: Dems playing destructive 'con game' with Kavanaugh Several Yale Law classmates who backed Kavanaugh call for misconduct investigation Freedom Caucus calls on Rosenstein to testify or resign MORE, extolled the virtues of the Beehive State and talked about his connections to the state. 

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"I have decided to run for United States Senate because I believe I can help bring Utah's values and Utah's lessons to Washington. Utah is a better model for Washington than Washington is for Utah," he says in the ad.

"Given all that America faces, we feel that this is the right time to serve our state and our country."

In the announcement video, which included sweeping footage of snow-covered Utah mountains, Romney pledged to be an independent voice in the Senate with a statement that could be interpreted as a nod to his detractors that have questioned his commitment to Utah, considering he served as the governor of Massachusetts and grew up in Michigan.

"If you give me this opportunity, I will owe the Senate seat to no one but the people of Utah. No donor, no corporation will own my campaign or bias my vote. And let there be no question — I will fight for Utah," he added.

With large name recognition, deep pockets and strong relationships with prominent Republicans, Romney is considered a virtual lock for the Senate seat.

He's not expected to pull a serious primary challenger and polls have him defeating the top Democrat in the race, Salt Lake City councilwoman Jenny Wilson, handily.

Romney, who earned millions as a businessman and consultant, helped lead the effort that staged the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City before turning his eye to public office out east. He won a reputation in Massachusetts as a blue-state Republican who could work across party lines.

After a failed run for president in 2008, he returned to the field in 2012 as the frontrunner, winning the GOP nomination but falling short against former President Obama in the general election.

The former GOP nominee's return to the electoral fray had been long expected ever since rumors of Hatch's retirement began to surface last year.

Romney initially planned to announce his bid on Thursday but delayed the news due to the tragic shooting at a Florida high school.

He will join the race in a political environment far different than the one he left in 2012 — one with Trump as the face of the GOP.

His relationship with Trump has been tumultuous.

Romney blasted then-candidate Trump in a March 2016 speech where he framed the candidate as a "phony" who was effectively hijacking the party. He went on to back a plan to deprive Trump of the necessary delegates to win the GOP convention later that year, a plan that failed.

Trump responded to Romney's comments by repeatedly blasting him on the campaign trail and making fun of him for losing the 2012 election.

There had appeared to be a brief thaw once Trump won the presidency; he invited Romney out for dinner to discuss the secretary of State position and Romney emerged from the dinner singing Trump's praises. Trump ultimately chose oil executive Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonArmed Services chairman to Trump: Keep Mattis 'as long as you possibly can' Sunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Pompeo working to rebuild ties with US diplomats: report MORE as his top diplomat.

Romney has spoken out against Trump on a number of occasions since the president took office — criticizing him for backing a Senate candidate in Alabama accused of child molestation, for an equivocating response to violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia, and more recently for using a disparaging term to describe El Salvador and some African countries.

But despite those criticisms, those close to Romney say that his candidacy will not be a protest against Trump, but instead a chance for the 2012 GOP nominee to return to public service. When that means joining with the president to push shared goals, they said, Romney will work with Trump. But they added Romney will not be afraid to push back against the president if he believes that is necessary.

"The governor is a statesman and has an independent voice he lends to certain issues. When he thinks the president is saying something undermining America's ideas or principles, he'll speak out. But he's with the president on a number of issues — if he had been in the Senate, he would have voted to repeal ObamaCare, supported the tax cuts," said Ryan Williams, a GOP strategist who worked on Romney's presidential campaign.

Updated at 9:17 a.m.