Mitt Romney took another step toward running for a U.S. Senate seat from Utah when he tweeted on Thursday about an upcoming announcement regarding the 2018 race. Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, announced in January that he would retire at the end of the year, a move many saw as clearing the way for Romney to seek his seat.
“Looking forward to making an announcement on February 15th about the Utah Senate race,” he tweeted, including a link to his website.
Rumors have swirled for months that Romney might run to represent Utah, where he is extremely popular. So far the former Massachusetts governor has not spoken publicly about specific political ambitions for 2018, but CNN reports that he is planning to formally announce his bid for Hatch’s Senate seat later this month. This pre-announcement alert on Twitter also allows Romney to begin courting delegates whose support he may need at Utah’s Republican Party nominating convention, according to the network.
After losing the 2012 presidential race to Barack Obama, Romney established permanent residency in Utah in 2014. Since President Donald Trump entered the 2016 presidential race, Romney has been a fierce critic and gave a speech in March of 2016 calling Trump a “phony” and a “fraud.”
When Trump won the 2016 election, he publicly considered giving Romney the role of secretary of state, but ultimately offered the job to Rex Tillerson. Since then, Romney has returned to his criticism of Trump, calling on the President to apologize after his response to the Charlottesville protests last fall and declaring Alabama Republican Roy Moore a “stain on the GOP” despite Trump’s steadfast support for the candidate.
While Utah is typically a conservative state, 21% of its voters went for independent candidate Evan McMullan during the 2016 presidential election rather than siding with Trump, who got 45% of the vote. In contrast, Romney pulled in nearly 73% of the state’s voters when he was running for president. This pattern, along with Romney’s popularity there, will likely mean that voters are receptive to Romney’s continued critiques of Trump if he does run in 2018.