ST. GEORGE – Hoping to gain support for his U.S. Senate campaign, Mike Kennedy visited SunRiver Wednesday and spoke to supporters and prospective voters who look to him as a real alternative to Mitt Romney.
Kennedy, a 49-year-old physician from Utah County, likened the biblical story of David and Goliath to his campaign against Romney for the Senate seat long held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is retiring. The two will face off in the June 26 primary to determine who will represent the Republican Party in November’s general election.
Kennedy narrowly beat Romney state GOP convention in April – 51 percent to 49 percent.
Following the event at SunRiver, delegates who attended the convention told Kennedy his message resonated with them over Romney.
“When we were vetting all of the candidates before convention, almost everybody was leaning for Romney,” a delegate said to Kennedy after the event. “By the time vetting was done and we talked to you guys individually and we found out where you really stand, (we) voted for you.”
It is the voters who live outside of Salt Lake County and the surrounding region who Kennedy hopes will help secure his spot on the ballot. It’s why he called rural Utah and places like Washington County “vitally important” in the race.
“A lot of people on the outskirts are very invested and motivated in making sure they get a regular Utahn who’s lived and worked here and understands (Utah),” Kennedy said. “I think Washington County will be key for us.”
Kennedy has repeatedly said he understands Utah better than Romney, adding he “doesn’t need a visitors guide” to the state.
Romney grew up in Michigan and served as the governor of Massachusetts. He eventually moved to Utah following an unsuccessful run for president in 2012.
Pointing to the Goliath reference, Kennedy said he understands what he’s up against. Romney has become a favored adopted son of Utah. He’s gained the endorsements of leading Utah politicians like Gov. Gary Herbert, as well as Hatch, who has said he would like someone like Romney to replace him.
Romney even gained President Donald Trump’s support despite the two railing against each other during the 2016 presidential race.
Read more: Trump endorses Romney for Senate bid in Utah
Romney is popular in Utah where he is held up as the man who led a turnaround of the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, as well as a prominent Mormon businessman and politician in the state where 60 percent of the population belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When many prospective voters look at Romney, Kennedy said, “They see a handsome guy with a smooth voice.”
Because of this, Kennedy asked the crowd to “spread the word” by talking to family and friends and putting campaign signs in their yards – or on their golf carts as had already been done in some cases.
Romney has been featured at events with Utah politicians, members of the state’s congressional delegation and other prominent figures, including in March when he and some of Utah’s congressional delegates spoke to public lands issues at Dixie State University.
“It’s the way the process works for the establishment,” Kennedy said. “I understand that. It’s fine. We don’t try to muscle our way into things we’re not invited to.”
Kennedy said he would rather work with regular people and talk to them directly rather than sit on a panel at a summit.
During the SunRiver event, Kennedy was asked about Romney talking about how his relationships in Washington, D.C., would help him and Utah by promoting collaboration over division.
“I have relations with these people and I believe we’ll be able to work with each other and get some things done,” Romney said during a visit to St. George last month.
“Well, he knows Washington like the back of his hand, and I know Utah like the back of my hand,” Kennedy said, adding Romney’s connections are a reason he wouldn’t vote for him.
“He represents the Washington insider establishment. I don’t, and Donald Trump doesn’t either.”
Kennedy said he supports the president and credits him for his support of last fall’s tax cuts. He also said he believes the president is “doing an outstanding job trying to drain the swamp.”
Kennedy’s support of Trump could serve him well among Washington County Republicans where the president garnered nearly 70 percent of the 2016 vote versus 45 percent in Utah overall.
Still, Romney enjoyed major support among Washington County voters during the 2012 presidential election when he gained 82 percent of the vote.
As for criticizing Trump, Kennedy said he wouldn’t do it on a public stage as Romney had done during the 2016 presidential campaign. Romney has since become a supporter of the president, which Kennedy and others say is an example of his flip-flopping on issues.
“The only thing consistent about his record is his inconsistency,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, who has served six years in the Utah Legislature, said he brings a unique set of skills to the table for voters to consider. In additional being a medical doctor, he is also an attorney.
“I know what it’s like to be a legislator and I know what it’s like to work with people,” he said.
He called the national debt the biggest security threat the nation faces and said he would work to cut taxes and spending.
Cutting taxes will stimulate the economy, he said, adding that certain government programs need to be cut while also ensuring the federal government keeps its promises to veterans and senior citizens.
He also told the crowd at SunRiver that he supports repeal of the Affordable Care Act, is pro-life and supports the Second Amendment.
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