- - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Two high-ranking Utah Republicans in the Beehive State apparently have unlikely bees in their bonnets. If Mitt Romney expects to win the Republican nomination for a Senate seat by acclamation, or by anointment, he might want to think again.

John Dougall, in his second term as state auditor — the ultimate counter of beans — tells U.S. News & World Report that he’s seriously considering challenging Mr. Romney for the Senate seat now held by Orrin G. Hatch, who is retiring at 84 after seven terms.

Mr. Dougall says he wants to make sure there’s a conversation about that seat, rather than a coronation for the Hatch successor. “We need to talk about what we want our U.S. senator to be, rather than talk about who it should be.”

When Mr. Romney announced his long-anticipated Senate candidacy a fortnight ago, the conventional wisdom was that it would be more coronation than conversation, but Mr. Dougall is unwilling to cede the seat without an election. A promotion from state auditor, the keeper of the books, to the U.S. Senate is not the usual way to get to Washington, but stranger things have happened.

Mr. Hatch, one of the lions of the Senate, is surrendering the seat he has held for 41 years, almost exactly half of his life. The Senate has always been friendly to lifers, and if Mr. Romney, who turns 71 in two weeks’ time, succeeds Mr. Hatch he won’t lower the average age of senators by very much. That’s why the irreverent on Capitol Hill call the U.S. Senate “God’s waiting room.”

Mr. Dougall is nothing if not a positive thinker. “I think he’s beatable,” he says of Mr. Romney. “Clearly, the odds are in his favor. He’s got very high name ID. He’s got piles of money. But there’s always an opportunity, always a chance for someone to win, especially in this race.” Indeed, that’s what makes America America.

The chairman of Utah’s state Republican Party seems to have little love for Mr. Romney’s candidacy. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune on St. Valentine’s Day, Rob Anderson said the former Massachusetts governor’s candidacy is “keeping out candidates” who would be “a better fit” for Utah.

“Let’s face it,” he says. “Mitt Romney doesn’t live here. His kids weren’t born here. He doesn’t shop here,” He likens Mr. Romney to another Senate carpetbagger, Hillary Clinton, whose ties to New York prior to her election in the year 2000 were mostly imaginary. Analogies to Mrs. Clinton are the ultimate Republican insult.

In Mr. Romney’s defense, he does have a degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and he is a Mormon in a state where nearly everybody seems to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He further served as president and CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and he came in late to save the games after planning looked about to collapse.

The fact that Mr. Romney and President Trump appear to have buried the political hatchet, and not in the backs of each other, and the president’s subsequent endorsement of Mr. Romney as a “worthy successor” to Orrin Hatch, has hardly softened the disdain of Messrs. Dougall and Anderson.

Utah’s Democrats, few and far between though they may be, share that disdain. They gleefully note that Mr. Trump had earlier sought to persuade Mr. Hatch to run for an eighth term if only to thwart the Romney candidacy, and that Mr. Romney was one of the president’s harshest critics in 2016, calling him “a phony” and “a fraud.”

Despite his seeming rapprochement with the president, Mr. Romney did not mention the president in his announcement, though he thanked Mr. Trump later for his tweeted endorsement. The president’s endorsement of his erstwhile nemesis is curious, because Mr. Romney is the ultimate Washington insider, and it’s difficult to see Mr. Romney helping the president drain the swamp.

As Sen. Romney, will he become another pain in the neck for the president in the Senate? He would have the company of Jeff Flake of Arizona, who is following Orrin Hatch out the door, and the RINO caucus of senators sometime Republican in name only, such as John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. They relish providing covering Democratic smoke for obstructing the president’s agenda.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as the observant political scientist quickly learns, and such bedfellows never have the luxury of snoring and sound sleep. Each must keep an evil eye on the other fellow.

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