Registered Republican voters can cast their ballot June 26 and choose between former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the homegrown, state legislator Mike Kennedy for the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination. Whoever wins the primary debate will then square off with Democratic candidate Jenny Wilson in the upcoming November election.
Romney became many Utahn’s darling after he created a storm in Washington as the first Mormon general presidential candidate in 2012. According to state polling records, Romney swept Utah with 73 percent of the vote.
Since announcing his run mid-March, polls put the former GOP candidate as the clear frontrunner for the Utah Senate seat, although Kennedy’s continued success proves it will not be smooth sailing back to Washington for Romney.
According to KSL, Kennedy, who in addition to being a state legislator is also a doctor and lawyer, defeated Romney in the Utah Republican Convention which took place earlier this year. Romney drew 49 percent of the votes while Kennedy took 51 percent. In order to advance in the election and win the nomination, a candidate must earn 60 percent of the votes. The win and respective loss for Romney meant he was unable to avoid the upcoming June primary election.
Though both candidates are Republicans and vocal members of the LDS Church, Kennedy sought to draw a sharp contrast between Romney and himself from the get go.
Kennedy not so subtly pointed out their differences in a YouTube video released shortly after announcing his run for Senate.
“Do you honestly think an establishment insider is going to fix the problems in Washington and restore our values?” he asked, referencing Romney’s inclination to tout his White House connections. “If you do, then I’m probably not your guy. But if you’re looking for someone who understands what its like to be an everyday American, working hard to balance a budget and raise a family in Utah, then my name is Dr. Mike Kennedy, and I would sure appreciate your vote for United States Senate.”
Romney served as the governor of Massachusetts before moving to Utah several years ago. He was also the president and CEO of the organizing committee for the Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games in 2002.
Despite living most of his life outside of the state, Romney has tried to draw focus to his sizable Utah connections and the pull he could uniquely offer the state in Washington.
In a primary debate on May 29, Romney drew on those capabilities throughout the evening.
“We are going to lose a lot of clout in Washington as Orrin Hatch retires, and no one can ever really replace that clout,” Romney said. And referencing the relationship he has built as a high-ranking political figure, Romney said, “But I do believe that by virtue of the experiences I have had and also by the relationships I have with the White House and with some 40 senators who I have campaigned with Republicans all, I do believe that I’ll be able to help Utah continue to punch above its weight.”
Throughout the debate, Kennedy leaned on his status as a lifetime Utah resident and blasted Romney for inconsistent policy positions and rocky relationship with President Donald Trump. One of his opening remarks drew on the fact when he good-humouredly welcomed Romney and his family to the beehive state. Kennedy also criticized the former Massachusetts governor for publicly making several polarizing comments against pastor Robert Jefress.
“When he is labeling President Trump as a phony and as a fraud and Jeffress as a bigot, I don’t see those as productive steps in building relationships,” Kennedy said.
Romney, who has been vocal about his distaste for some of President Trump’s policies in the past, doubled down and expressed his support for the president when his policies benefit America as a whole.
The former GOP presidential candidate made sure to clarify his standing with President Trump and reminded listeners that the president has in fact endorsed him in his campaign.
Of Jeffress, Romney said when people express bigotry — especially against marginalized groups — they should be called out for it.
Kennedy and Romney’s personalities and backgrounds contrasted with one another in the primary debate, though, regarding actual policy, the candidates were civil and agreed on many issues.
Both candidates said they want less federal government interference and in its place more power dictated to the states.
Romney and Kennedy agreed the Affordable Healthcare Act needs to be repealed because it prevents Utah from crafting its own personalized policies that work best for the state.
Though Kennedy and Romney both said they oppose the creation of new, federal gun laws, the two men differ on banning “bump stocks” — a device that enables semi-automatic weapons to fire faster. Romney is for banning the device to the general public, but Kennedy thinks doing so would be an infringement on the Second Amendment.
Romney said school campuses should be more like banks and have armed personnel, limit entry to the public, and have metal detectors and a skilled intervention team on hand ready to act when individuals pose a threat.
Kennedy said he wants to focus on root causes of the issue, like mental health. The state legislator notably gained recognition last year when he assembled a bipartisan task force to take a look at gun violence and find local solutions.
Both Kennedy and Romney said they stand with the president on immigration, although they said the system desperately needs to be revised.
The two men agreed legal immigration should be possible, and it needs to be more enticing than the illegal alternative.
More information on Kennedy and Romney can be found on their respective campaign sites. The two’s fate will be decided June 26 in the Republican Primary election.