Romney wins Utah primary race

Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King Des Moines Register calls on Steve King to resign MORE is projected to win the GOP nomination in Utah’s Senate race, essentially clearing the way for the former presidential nominee to claim a Senate seat this fall.

The Associated Press called the race for Romney at 10:24 p.m.

Romney defeated state Rep. Mike Kennedy (R) in Tuesday’s primary in the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLive coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Trump praises RNC chairwoman after she criticizes her uncle Mitt Romney Romney sworn in as senator MORE. Since Utah is a deep-red state, Romney is expected to cruise to victory in November, which will mark his political comeback since running for president in 2012.

The former Massachusetts governor has previously run for Senate. He made his political debut in 1994 and ran a surprisingly strong bid against Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

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While he’s been out of politics since his presidential bid, Romney has stayed in the spotlight, especially for his criticism of President TrumpDonald John TrumpVeterans groups demand end to shutdown: 'Get your act together' Brown launches tour in four early nominating states amid 2020 consideration Pence on border wall: Trump won't be ‘deterred’ by Dem ‘obstruction’ MORE, whom he called a “fraud” and a “phony” during the 2016 election. Trump fired back at Romney, repeatedly mocking him for losing in 2012.

But since then, Romney has warmed up to Trump, who endorsed the former governor's Senate bid and once considered him to serve as secretary of State.

Romney penned an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune over the weekend saying he’ll still speak out against Trump when they disagree, but noted that there are areas of mutual agreement.

"If you elect me your senator, I will fight with vigor for the interests of our state and nation. I will endorse the president’s policies that support those interests. Hopefully, there will be few occasions where I will be compelled by conscience to criticize," Romney wrote.

"But, as I have said throughout this campaign, I will call them like I see them. Last week, the president said that I’m a straight shooter; I will endeavor to be just so.”

Despite serving as governor of Massachusetts and being born and raised in Michigan, Romney, a Mormon, has strong ties to Utah. He lived in the state before his gubernatorial bid and played a key role in running the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Romney will now square off against Salt Lake County Councilwoman (D) Jenny Wilson in the general election. Utah hasn’t elected a Democratic senator in almost five decades.