Mitt Romney finished second in yesterday's Utah GOP primary caucus yesterday, meaning he now faces a June runoff primary against state Rep. Mike Kennedy for Sen. Orrin Hatch's seat.
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%.
Romney and Kennedy will now compete in a primary set for June 26.
After the vote, Romney said he was looking forward to a primary race.
"This is terrific for the people of Utah, and I really want to thank the delegates who stayed so late to give me the kind of boost that I got here today," Romney said, standing on the convention floor after the proceedings were adjourned. "We're going to have a good primary."
Kennedy, who had framed the race as David vs. Goliath, said when asked why he had edged out Romney in the vote that he wasn't sure.
"I don't know," Kennedy said when asked why he thought his message appealed more to delegates than Romney's. "I don't know -- it's just my message."
Or it could be that nobody actually likes the guy. Still, Romney was able to navigate Utah's byzantine GOP primary rules and if he does win the primary would have to be considered a frontrunner for Hatch's seat. Hatch is retiring after his 7th term, a whopping 42 years in the US Senate.
Then again, Sen. Mike Lee won the other Utah Senate seat by driving Sen. Bob Bennett out of the party in 2010 as not conservative enough. Utah Republicans can be weird.
What I do know is that the leading Democratic candidate, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, doesn't have much of a chance. We could be stuck with Mittens in the US Senate for a while if he wins the primary as he's 71, but if Kennedy wins, well, he could be in there for 42 years too.
No real good news here for Dems unless Utah goes through a major demographic change towards purple/blue like the rest of the US Southwest. It may happen, but not soon enough to help this time around.