SALT LAKE CITY — Now is the time for Mitt Romney to run for the U.S. Senate, several state lawmakers said Monday at an event held at the state Capitol to promote an online petition urging Romney to get in the race.
"We should be electing the best of us, the best morally, politically and professionally. Gov. Romney fits that bill," Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, said. "We'd be lucky to have Mitt Romney represent us as a U.S. senator."
Hemmert, behind the Recruit Romney super political action committee filed with the Federal Election Commission, told reporters afterward he wants Romney to run in 2018 even if Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, decides to seek another term.
"Hatch has done an awesome job for Utah," Hemmert said. "I don't want to turn this into an anti-Hatch movement because that's not the narrative we're trying to create. Whether he runs or not is up to him. What I do want is for Romney to run."
Last week, when Hemmert announced the event to launch the grass-roots effort to gather signatures, he said for the 2012 GOP presidential nominee to get in the race, Hatch would have to retire.
Monday, Hemmert said he'd decided it doesn't matter.
"I would still like him to run, yeah. I think he would be a great senator for the state of Utah," Hemmert said. "I hope Romney is going to run regardless, irrespective of what Sen. Hatch does."
The online petition at recruitromney.com states that should Hatch "choose to resign, our most senior seat in the Senate will become the most junior, and Utah will lose a powerful voice in D.C.," but Romney would bring national influence.
Hemmert said he has not been in contact with Romney, who has had little to say about the race since hinting he was interested in February. Hatch has said he will decide by the end of the year whether to run for re-election after 42 years in office.
Hatch spokesman Matt Whitlock said in a statement, "Sen. Hatch appreciates Gov. Romney's pledged support should he decide to run again," making it clear there's no expectation of a challenge from the former Massachusetts governor.
Also backing the effort to recruit Romney were state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, and Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs. They spoke before an audience of about 20 lobbyists and political operatives gathered in the rotunda.
"It seems like this moment in politics is one that’s marked by unseriousness and immaturity. And Mitt Romney is a man that this moment is calling for," Fillmore said, calling him "a man of maturity, of sound mind, of the right temperament."
Moss also cited Romney's temperament, saying the nation "needs more people like Mitt Romney who can remain cool and calm" and who "knows how to disagree without being disagreeable" in Washington.
He and Hemmert both pointed to Romney taking over the 2002 Winter Games during an international bribery scandal. Romney, who now calls Utah home, became one of the state's most popular political figures after the Olympics.
"Sometimes we forget what a big deal that was," Moss said.
Moss said after the event that he, too, wants to see Romney run no matter what Hatch does. He said Romney could help offset what he called a troubling tone set by President Donald Trump and others, including Democrats, in Washington.
Hemmert took a jab at Trump supporters who have targeted the race.
"This Senate seat belongs to Utah. It belongs to Utah voters," Hemmert said after declaring he was tired of national media, political idealogues and pundits talking about who should hold the seat.
He acknowledged that was "indirectly" aimed at Steve Bannon, a former key adviser to Trump who is looking for conservatives to run to the right of a number of congressional Republicans, including Hatch.
Bannon has not named a candidate for the Utah seat but has met with Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson about a possible Senate bid. Matheson has said he has not decided whether to run.