President Trump Endorses Mitt Romney in Utah Senate Race, Embracing a Long-Time Critic

February 20, 2018, 5:47 AM UTC

President Donald Trump endorsed former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for a U.S. Senate seat in Utah, setting aside longstanding differences with a GOP critic as the party looks to preserve its narrow majority in the chamber.

“He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to @OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!” Trump wrote in a message on Twitter late Monday.

Romney — the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor — announced on Friday that he would run to succeed Senator Orrin Hatch, a strong Trump supporter who decided not to seek an eighth term despite the president’s entreaties.

Trump’s support could provide a lift to Romney in a state that the president won by 18 percentage points in 2016. His endorsement may also help contain the pro-Trump, anti-establishment forces in the Republican Party that influenced decisions by GOP Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona to retire after this year, although a Corker spokesman has said he might reconsider.

Shortly after Trump’s endorsement, Romney posted a note of gratitude on his own Twitter feed. “Thank you Mr. President for the support. I hope that over the course of the campaign I also earn the support and endorsement of the people of Utah,” he wrote.

Romney is entering the race as the early favorite thanks to his popularity in Utah, fundraising skills, name recognition, and months of campaigning and fundraising for other GOP candidates. Republicans currently hold a 51-49 edge over Democrats in the Senate.

For more about Mitt Romney’s Senate candidacy, watch Fortune’s video:

One question is whether Romney will continue to be a strong anti-Trump voice or follow the path of former vocal Trump critics like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham who have now become allies.

Trump has weathered tough criticism from Romney, who referred to the then-presidential candidate as “a phony, a fraud” in a March 2016 speech. Romney assailed Trump for suggesting that both sides were to blame for violence following a violent white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying that the president’s remarks “caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn.”

Despite their differences, Trump interviewed him as a candidate for secretary of state. Romney said in June 2017 that he would have accepted the job if it had been offered, and that he and the president weren’t as far apart on issues as he’d feared.

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