Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney signaled Thursday that he is likely to enter the 2018 race for U.S. Senate in Utah, tweeting that he is "looking forward to making an announcement on February 15th" and linking to a website that encouraged supporters to "join team Mitt."
Romney's latest step forward, following months of privately mulling a political rebirth, was hardly a surprise.
Ever since veteran Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) announced in January that he would not seek reelection this year, Romney has made it clear to his friends and associates that he is seriously considering running for Senate and once again becoming a player in national Republican politics.
Romney's inner circle — including his wife, Ann, longtime finance adviser Spencer Zwick and adviser Matthew Waldrip, plus an orbit of former aides from his 2012 presidential campaign — has been supportive of a return, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.
A Republican close to Romney, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Thursday that it was "obvious" that Romney will run and called the tweet a social media formality ahead of the campaign launch. Waldrip, the person said, is expected to manage Romney's bid.
Romney's official residence is now Holladay, Utah, near Salt Lake City and the home of Josh Romney, one of Romney's five sons.
Many establishment Republican voices, eager for a resurgence in President Trump's Washington, have seized on the prospect of a Sen. Romney in recent weeks, hoping his return to the stage could provide the GOP with a counterweight to the combative, populist approach taken by Trump.
Trump-aligned conservatives, meanwhile, have recoiled and said the party's base voters have moved on and would shun the former Massachusetts governor as an elite relic of traditional Republicanism.
Analysts widely expect that Romney, 70, would win the Republican nomination, should he enter the race. Former Trump chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon had been searching for a hard-line conservative challenger, but those efforts have largely faltered as Bannon has fallen out of favor with Trump.
Democrat Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County Council member, is already running for the seat and has argued that the victory of Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) in a December special election could bring attention to her candidacy in a ruby-red state.
Trump's allies, well aware of Romney's past criticisms of the president, aren't quite sure how Romney would operate if elected.
"I don't see him becoming an antagonist," Chris Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a Trump ally, said in an interview last month with The Washington Post. "You look at Mitt's history, he came out early against Trump but didn't push the point after the nomination was secured. It's not his personality to be way out there."