By LINDSAY WHITEHURST
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) – Mitt Romney may have one of the best-known names in national politics, but he’s still going to have to face down nearly a dozen Republican contenders in Utah on Saturday in his bid to restart his political career with a U.S. Senate seat.
Romney will face an unpredictable crowd of far-right-leaning delegates at the Utah Republican Party convention. But while a loss would be awkward for the former presidential candidate, it wouldn’t end his campaign.
That’s because candidates can also win a primary spot in Utah by gathering voter signatures, which Romney has done. Though the law is a source of contention in the party, some high-profile candidates like Utah Gov. Gary Herbert have taken that route to victory despite losing at convention.
Romney will be one of 12 candidates vying for the support of core party members in the race to replace long-serving Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.
A win on Saturday would let Romney bypass the June primary and likely cruise to Election Day victory in deep-red Utah.
The state party delegates elected by their neighbors are gathering at the convention to choose nominees for races ranging from U.S. Senate to state Legislature.
Republican U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop, John Curtis and Chris Stewart are all facing off against challengers and looking to secure the path to re-election. U.S. Rep. Mia Love is unopposed in seeking the nomination, but could face a well-known Democratic opponent in a general election battle in November.
Romney, 71, will ask for the delegates’ vote after spending two months on the campaign trail visiting dairy farms, taking selfies with college students and making stump speeches in small towns.
After his failed 2012 presidential campaign, he moved to Utah, where he is also known for his role in the 2002 Winter Olympics and for becoming the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party.
He’s worked to keep the focus on state issues rather than his history of well-documented feuds with President Donald Trump, whom he called a “con-man” and a phony during the 2016 race. Trump fired back that Romney “choked like a dog” during his own White House run. But the two men have shown fresh signs of burying the hatchet, and Romney has accepted Trump’s endorsement.
Romney’s competitors are largely political newcomers aside from state Rep. Mike Kennedy, a Republican from Alpine who has served in the Legislature since 2013.
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