Trump critic Romney announces Senate bid

James HIDER
Mitt Romney -- seen here following a meeting with Donald Trump in November 2016 -- enjoyed a brief rapprochement with the president-elect, during which he was tipped for the position of secretary of state

Mitt Romney, the former Republican White House hopeful and outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, announced Friday that he is seeking a US Senate seat in Utah, beginning a closely-watched return to the national political stage.

"I am running for United States Senate to serve the people of Utah and bring Utah's values to Washington," Romney, 70, wrote on Twitter.

Romney, who also posted a video clip of his announcement, is running for a seat currently held by Republican Orrin Hatch, who in early January announced his retirement against the urgings of Trump.

"Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world. Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion. And on Utah Capitol Hill, people treat each other with respect," Romney says in the video, in an apparent jab at the Trump administration's tough line on immigration.

A wealthy businessman and former governor of Massachusetts, Romney was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.

His strong name recognition and stature as a respected establishment Republican is set to make him the instant frontrunner in conservative Utah, where he also has roots.

In a 2016 speech, Romney called fellow Republican Trump a "phony, a fraud," who was "playing the members of the American public for suckers."

After Trump's victory, the two men enjoyed a brief rapprochement when Romney attended a dinner with the president-elect to discuss the possibility of taking the job of secretary of state.

That position was ultimately given to former Exxon oil chief Rex Tillerson, but Romney toned down his public criticism of Trump in the following months.

- Traditional Republican -

He spoke up again last August, however, after Trump said "both sides" were to blame for deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Romney demanded that Trump apologize and "repudiate the racists."

"What he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn," Romney said in a Facebook post at the time.

Then in early December, shortly after Trump visited Utah where he pleaded with Hatch to run for another term, Romney attacked Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, whom Trump endorsed earlier in the day.

"Roy Moore in the US Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation," Romney tweeted, referring to allegations that the candidate preyed on teenage girls when he was a lawyer in his thirties. Moore narrowly lost the election.

The Senate bid is likely to set Romney -- a symbol for many conservatives of the traditional Republican values overturned by Trump's take-over of the party -- at loggerheads with the president, who has demanded loyalty from members of his party in Congress.

Utah Republican Party chairman Rob Anderson was highly critical of Romney's bid.

"I think he's keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let's face it, Mitt Romney doesn't live here, his kids weren't born here, he doesn't shop here," Rob Anderson told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Romney's presidential run in 2012 suffered a major blow when the wealthy business leader was covertly recorded telling a private reception that 47 percent of Americans were "dependent on the government, who believe they are victims" and would vote for the Democrat Barack Obama no matter what.