Mitt Romney wins Senate race in Utah

Former 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyUtah New Members 2019 The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Leadership elections in Congress | Freshman lawmakers arrive | Trump argues he can restrict reporter access Rick Scott appears with GOP senators, ignores voter fraud question as recount continues MORE will replace retiring Utah Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchUtah New Members 2019 Congress braces for high-drama lame duck Trump to award Medal of Freedom to Babe Ruth, Elvis, Scalia, Hatch MORE (R) and become one of the most high-profile Republicans in Congress.

Romney, a Mormon who long held residence in Utah and formerly served as governor of Massachusetts, cruised to an easy victory in a state that has had mixed feelings about President TrumpDonald John TrumpAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Mulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Kasich: Wouldn’t want presidential run to ‘diminish my voice’ MORE.

He is expected to serve as one of the most prominent counterweights to Trump in the Senate after Sens. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails Washington Post publisher: Trump officials, Saudis asking world to 'take their word' on Khashoggi murder Corker: 'A price needs to be paid' for Khashoggi's murder MORE (R-Tenn.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain would have said ‘enough’ to acrimony in midterms, says Cindy McCain Senate GOP discussing Mueller vote Trump rightly fears the Fed will smother the economy MORE (R-Ariz.) retire at year’s end.

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Romney led the “Never Trump” movement during the 2016 GOP primary and denounced the president as “a con man” and “a fake,” calling on him to release his tax returns in a speech in March of that year.

Last month, however, he backed off those comments when he was asked during a rally in Arizona about being a leader of the “Never Trump” movement.

“I don’t think that was the case,” he said. “President Trump was not the person I wanted to become the nominee of our party but he’s president now.”

He also praised Trump’s policies as “pretty effective.”

But in the Senate, where most Republicans are loath to criticize Trump, Romney may emerge as a conservative conscience in response to his most controversial statements.

Romney last week pushed back on Trump’s attack of the media as an “enemy of the people.” 

“Surely every president has endured stories that he knew were inaccurate and has chaffed at one or more news publications,” Romney wrote in a blog post. “But no American president has ever before vilified the American press or one of its professional outlets as an ‘Enemy of the People.’ ”

Trump carried Utah with only 45 percent of the vote in the 2016 general election, losing 21.3 percent of voters to independent conservative Evan McMullin, the largest share the protest candidate won in any state.

Trump’s style has clashed with the family-oriented sensibilities of many Mormon voters in the state. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzO'Rourke writes blog post describing a literal run from near the capitol to near the White House Cruz brushes off question about campaign claim on O'Rourke paying for caravan Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas) won the 2016 Utah GOP presidential primary with 69 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s 14 percent.

In an April interview, Romney declined to commit to supporting Trump’s reelection in 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill On The Money: Senior GOP senator warns Trump against shutdown | Treasury sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | HQ2 deal brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Senate confirms Bowman to Fed board Senior GOP senator warns Trump against partial shutdown MORE (R-Ky.) recruited Romney last year to run for the Senate and publicly urged Trump in February to get behind his candidacy.

Romney distanced himself from the White House during the campaign by running on fiscal discipline, free trade and openness to immigration. 

When he announced his campaign, he noted that “Utah has balanced its budgets” and welcomes immigrants from around the world, while “Washington is buried in the debt” and “sends immigrants a message of exclusion.”

GOP senators say they expect Romney to become a leading voice on international issues and believe he may wind up taking a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee, which Corker and Flake will be leaving.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Romney called Russia the nation’s biggest geopolitical foe, and could put pressure on Trump to take a tougher stance on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Romney could also emerge as an influential voice on health care. As governor of Massachusetts, he helped implement a universal health-care system in the state that later became the template for ObamaCare.

Romney argued there were distinct differences between the two plans, but in a 2015 interview with The Boston Globe he acknowledged “Without RomneyCare, I don’t think we would have ObamaCare.”

An October poll by the Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics showed Romney well ahead of his Democratic opponent Jenny Wilson, 59 percent to 23 percent.

Romney won the Republican primary in June with 72 percent of the vote and raised just over $5 million for his campaign, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

"Humbled by the support and trust of Utahns," Romney tweeted shortly after his victory on Tuesday night. "I endeavor to represent you with dignity, integrity, and in a manner that will make you proud."

Updated on Nov. 7 at 2:25 a.m.

Emily Birnbaum contributed.