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Romney Makes it Official: He's Running for Utah Senate Seat

FILE - Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves after speaking about the tech sector during an industry conference in Salt Lake City, Jan. 19, 2018.

Former presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is running for a Utah Senate seat, officially launching his political comeback attempt Friday by praising his adopted home state as a model for an acrimonious national government in Washington.

Among the Republican Party's fiercest internal critics of President Donald Trump, Romney never mentioned the administration or Trump himself. The closest allusion to Trump was Romney noting that Utah "welcomes legal immigrants from around the world," while "Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion."

Romney confidantes said leading up to his widely anticipated announcement that he intends to focus his campaign on Utah, where he moved with his wife, Ann, after losing the 2012 presidential election to incumbent Democrat Barack Obama.

"Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in Washington," he said, noting that "on Utah's Capitol Hill, people treat one another with respect."

Romney, 70, will be the heavy favorite for the Senate seat being opened by Sen. Orrin Hatch's retirement. Hatch was among the first Republicans to pitch Romney as his potential successor.

As he did in two presidential campaigns, Romney's announcement highlights his stewardship of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The former Massachusetts governor is respected in the state for taking over the troubled games amid planning and financial disarray.

Romney supporters describe him as a "favorite son" of Utah. He's a Brigham Young University graduate who went on to become the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party. About 60 percent of Utah's residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Still, Romney may face some pushback from some Utah Republicans who question whether the one-time abortion-rights supporter is too much of an outsider or too moderate for their tastes, but he's not expected to face any serious primary or general election challenge.

Romney would come to Capitol Hill with a higher profile than a typical freshman senator.

He attracted headlines in 2016 when he took the extraordinary step of delivering a biting speech denouncing Trump, calling him a "phony" who was unfit for office.

Romney muted his criticism for a time when Trump auditioned him as a potential secretary of state.

For his part, Trump has said Romney "choked like a dog" in his failed presidential bids in 2012 and four years earlier, when Romney lost the GOP nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Romney also would be a compelling addition to the ongoing congressional wrangle over health care. As Massachusetts governor, Romney enacted a sweeping health insurance overhaul that became a model for the health care exchanges in the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Barrow reported from Atlanta.