Mitt and Ann Romney are greeted by a supporter during the Strawberry Day Parade Saturday, June 23, 2018, in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Romney is flashing his familiar smile at city parks and backyards in Utah's mountains and suburbs this week, making his final pitch after being forced into a Republican primary against a conservative state lawmaker. At stake is being the party's representative to vie for the Senate seat long held by retiring Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Mitt Romney takes on lawmaker in bid for Utah Senate seat

June 26, 2018 - 2:04 am
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mitt Romney will learn Tuesday if he'll continue the reboot of his political career as voters decide a primary in the race for a Utah Senate seat vacated by Orrin Hatch, who is retiring after more than 40 years.

The former GOP presidential candidate has deflected attacks on his onetime criticism of President Donald Trump during the campaign while saying his political clout would help Utah punch above its weight in Washington, D.C.

Romney said in an op-ed published Sunday in the Salt Lake Tribune that the Trump administration's policies have exceeded his expectations in its first year, but he pledged to "continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions."

His opponent, state Rep. Mike Kennedy, says he's the true local conservative who would work better with Trump. His pitch won over hard-right leaning delegates at the party convention in April but will be put to the test among more moderate GOP voters around the state.

Kennedy, a lawyer and family doctor, had a hardscrabble upbringing as one of seven children raised by a single mother. The father of eight is now worth up to about $2 million, a healthy figure that's nevertheless a far cry from Romney's reported fortune of up to $270 million.

Romney has Trump's endorsement and is heavily favored to win in the state where he's a beloved adopted son. He's raised nearly $2 million for his campaign over the last two months, while Kennedy took in $152,000.

Romney and Kennedy were forced into a runoff primary when neither won 60 percent of delegates' votes to secure the nomination outright at the state GOP convention in April. Romney had a narrow loss.

The other marquee race Tuesday has U.S. Rep. John Curtis looking to take a major step toward winning his first full term in Congress in Utah's 3rd District.

He won a special election to finish Rep. Jason Chaffetz's term months ago, and is now facing a rematch against former state lawmaker Chris Herrod.

The hard-right leaning Herrod is known for his strict stance on immigration and has strongly aligned himself with Trump. Curtis, meanwhile, is considered more moderate and has spoken against broad-based tariffs and bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic ones and were used in a mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

The winner of both GOP primaries will be heavy favorites to win in November in the overwhelmingly Republican state.

On the Democratic side, businessman Kurt Weiland and social worker Lee Castillo are competing to face eight-term U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Republican.

Other noteworthy candidates include Democrat Derek Kitchen, a Salt Lake City councilman running for the state Legislature. He rose to prominence when he and his partner were one of the couples whose lawsuit successfully overturned Utah's ban on gay marriage.

He's facing off against physician Jennifer Plumb, a doctor and advocate for reducing opioid overdoses, in the primary to replace outspoken Democratic state Sen. Jim Dabakis.

GOP voters will also decide the next sheriff of Utah County. Pleasant Grove Police Chief Mike Smith is vying in the Republican primary against U.S. Marshal Jim Phelps to replace Jim Tracy, who is retiring as the sheriff of Utah's second-largest county.

There are no candidates on the Democratic side, so Tuesday's winner will be unopposed in November.

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