Mitt Romney hits the campaign trail after Utah GOP convention loss

Posted at 6:13 PM, Apr 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-23 21:37:02-04

LEHI, Utah -- Mitt Romney was mobbed by well-wishers as he strolled through Thanksgiving Point's Tulip Festival.

He shook hands and posed for pictures during the campaign stop, held two days after his loss at the Utah Republican Party's convention.

"We appreciate what you do!" a woman gushed as she shook Romney's hand.

"Oh, thank you so much," he replied. "Vote in the primary, it comes at the end of June!"

"OK!" she replied.

It was a stark contrast to his second-place finish at Saturday's convention, where he barely lost to Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine. Because Romney gathered signatures to qualify for the ballot, the two will now be in a primary.

Kennedy's upset victory is getting him national attention. He made an appearance Monday on "FOX & Friends."

"President Trump's done a great job," Kennedy told the show. "Not only for the nation, but the state of Utah."

But Kennedy refused to bash Romney, much to the surprise of show host Brian Kilmeade.

"So you and Mitt Romney have nothing against each other? You just want to see the best person win?" Kilmeade exclaimed.

"I agree with that," Kennedy replied. "Actually, it's the right thing not only for the state of Utah and the nation."

Nationally, headlines about the Kennedy-Romney primary questioned if Romney's star was fading or if it was a referendum on President Trump. But locally, it was well known that it was another chapter in the ongoing infighting within the Utah Republican Party.

Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, appears on "FOX & Friends" on Monday, April 23. (Image from FOX News Channel)

A past critic of candidate Trump, Romney brushed aside his past remarks and said he supported the president's first-year agenda. Pressed about his previous criticism of Trump, Romney told FOX 13: "I can only look forward. My plans are to look forward to what's right for our state."

Romney went into Saturday's Utah GOP convention with more money and celebrity status as the man who ran the 2002 Winter Olympics, a former presidential candidate and the former governor of Massachusetts. But he was also a scalp to be collected for a faction of the party fighting to determine who gets to carry the Republican banner on the ballot.

"You never quite know what's going to happen at convention," Romney told FOX 13 on Monday. "As someone who collected signatures, I know conventioneers don't want someone who collected signatures."

The Utah GOP's ongoing civil war reignited during convention as the factions feuded over whether to debate bylaw changes that could impose term limits on members of the party's central committee. Some of those  members have threatened to kick out candidates who gather signatures to get on the ballot, instead of going through the caucus/convention system as they believe it should be.

Mitt Romney poses for pictures at the Tulip Festival at Thanksgiving Point on Monday, April 23. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The civil war has been fought in conventions and in the courts, with Denver's 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considering whether to re-hear the Utah GOP's lawsuit.

Romney reiterated he was staying out of the GOP civil war and continuing to campaign. He told FOX 13 he did better than he expected at convention.

There is a big difference between general Republican voters and party delegates, said Morgan Lyon Cotti, a political science professor at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"They are more conservative. They have different priorities and different values," she said of delegates. "So it's difficult for some candidates to make that jump."

That could make it more problematic for Kennedy going into the June primary. He lacks Romney's name recognition or campaign war chest.

"Most Utahns still don't know who he is," Cotti said of Kennedy. "He's got a lot of work to do."