Romney runs into brief stumbling block on road to the Senate

You’ll probably be seeing a number of startling headlines this weekend regarding Mitt Romney’s bid to win the Senate seat currently held by Orrin Hatch. CNN has one example of this phenomenon, declaring that Romney “fails to secure Utah GOP nomination.” Uh oh. Is Mitt in trouble? I thought he was supposed to have this thing locked down before it even began. What went wrong?

Mitt Romney did not win the Utah Republican Party’s nomination on Saturday, meaning he must compete in a June primary election as he seeks to replace retiring US Sen. Orrin Hatch.

After a wild and raucous day of voting at the Utah GOP convention, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee was unable to win the 60% that he needed to head to the November ballot unopposed. When none of the 12 candidates were able to cross that threshold, the party continued with successive rounds of caucus voting until one candidate reached 40%.

On the second round of voting, Utah state representative Mike Kennedy emerged in the lead with 50.88%. Romney came in a close second with 49.12%.

Once you sort through all the tedious details of the convention held yesterday you find that Romney didn’t “lose” the party nomination. He simply missed an opportunity to completely avoid a primary election. And he didn’t come up against some hometown favorite who is likely to stop him either. What Mitt ran into was a battle over the technical details of how the state party selects their candidates and their antiquated caucus system. During the 2016 primary season, we were treated to in-depth examinations of the party mechanics of several states which frequently leave observers scratching their heads. (How can somebody win a majority of the votes and still wind up with fewer delegates than their opponent?)

Utah is in the middle of an ongoing battle over just such questions. Their current system gives a lot of power to party insiders who can gather at their state convention and make decisions outside the influence of the party members around the state. If one candidate can secure the support of 60% of these local party officials they can land the nomination without ever having to face an actual primary vote. But candidates can also choose to gather signatures (as is done in most states) and get on the ballot that way. Romney elected to hedge his bets and do both, actively courting the support of the local officials around Utah but also gathering the required signatures.

This apparently angered many of the state party insiders who would rather retain control of the nominating process and not leave it to the whims of the unwashed masses. Plus, there was always going to be competition for that seat and some of the native Utah Republicans are trying to paint Romney as an unauthentic carpetbagger from Massachusettes. But in the end, it still sounds like Romney’s popularity hasn’t faded much and he should easily win the June primary and, almost surely, the Senate seat.

So will Romney be supporting Donald Trump in 2020 if he’s a senator at that time? For the time being, he doesn’t want to talk about it.