Romney forced into GOP primary for Utah Senate nomination

Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyIraq War looms over Trump battle with Iran Alabama state senator introduces bill to repeal state's abortion ban Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems MORE failed to secure the Utah Republican Party's nomination for Senate on Saturday, triggering a June primary.

In the final round of voting at the party's convention, state Rep. Mike Kennedy (R) won 50.88 percent of the vote, with Romney following with 49.12 percent.

Because neither candidate secured 60 percent, the two will head to a June statewide Republican primary.

Romney and Kennedy are running to succeed retiring Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump gambles in push for drug import proposal Biden's role in Anita Hill hearings defended by witness not allowed to testify 'Congress' worst tax idea ever'? Hardly. MORE (R).

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Saturday's defeat was a surprising turn for Romney, whose national profile far exceeds Kennedy's and who could count on a strong donor network and the endorsement of prominent Republicans, including Hatch and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE.

When he made his bid official, Romney was considered a virtual lock for the GOP nomination and was not expected to face a serious primary challenger.

Kennedy was first elected to the Utah state House in 2012.

Romney's Senate bid, in contrast, is only the latest step in a long political career.

A former Massachusetts governor, he ran for president in both 2008 and 2012. He failed to secure the nomination his first time, losing to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Romney: Trump 'has distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character' MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE (R-Ariz.), but won the GOP contest in 2012. He fell to former President Obama in the general election.

In 2016, Romney made waves again when he urged Republicans to oppose Trump. He called Trump a "fraud" who lacked the character to be president.

After Trump's election there was a brief thaw as the two dined publicly and Romney was floated as a potential secretary of State. But Romney was passed up for the post, which went to Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTillerson meets with House Foreign Affairs Committee Overnight Defense: Trump rails against media coverage | Calls reporting on Iran tensions 'highly inaccurate' | GOP senator blocking Trump pick for Turkey ambassador | Defense bill markup next week Trump frustrated with advisers over Iran, wants to speak to leaders in Tehran: report MORE.

Romney has since criticized the president over a number of issues, including his response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Trump also urged Hatch repeatedly to run for reelection, a move that was widely seen as an effort to keep one of the president's most vocal critics out of the Senate.

But after Hatch announced he would retire and Romney entered the race, Trump backed the presumed front-runner. In a tweet in February, Trump said Romney would make a great senator.

That contentious relationship is likely to be tested again in the run-up to the June Utah GOP primary.

Romney made headlines earlier on Saturday when he said he was not ready to endorse Trump for reelection in 2020, telling CNN he would "make that decision down the road."

"As a person of political experience, if I endorse someone, I'll want to know what's in it for Utah and what help would he provide for us on key priorities in Utah."

"I'm not a cheap date," he added.

This story was updated at 10:06 p.m.