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Romney Makes Final Pitch Before Primary06/23 11:19

   AMERICAN FORK, Utah (AP) -- Mitt Romney is flashing his familiar smile at 
city parks and backyards in Utah's mountains and suburbs this week, making his 
final pitch after being forced into a Republican Senate primary Tuesday against 
a conservative state lawmaker.

   His opponent has painted him as an outsider who can't get along with 
President Donald Trump, but Romney has quieted his once-strident criticism.

   "I'm not someone who's going to be a daily commentator on everything the 
president says by any means, but if there's something of significance that the 
president says or does, I feel a moral obligation to express my own view," he 
told The Associated Press in an interview at a Utah restaurant where heads 
turned and people stopped to ask for photos.

   Romney predicted earlier this month that Trump would win re-election in 
2020. He hasn't endorsed him, though, and declined to do so this week, saying 
it's too early and he expects Trump to have an as-yet-unknown challenger for 
the Republican nomination.

   Still, Romney's tone has changed considerably since the 2016 campaign when 
he called then-candidate Trump a "phony" and a "fraud." Things change after a 
president is elected, Romney said, adding that he'll get behind good policies 
while criticizing bad ones.

   On immigration, for example, Romney said he supports strong border security 
including a wall, but he condemned the policy of separating families after 
illegal border crossings. Trump ended that practice with an executive order 
Wednesday after a national outcry.

   "It's a heartbreaking circumstance. It puts America in a terrible light 
around the world," Romney said.

   Romney declined to say, though, whether he's in favor of the Trump 
administration's "zero tolerance" policy that led to the spike in family 
separations.

   As he's crisscrossed the state's Western vistas in a 2002 pickup truck with 
a cracked windshield, the former governor of Massachusetts has walked a fine 
line on the president, aligning himself with many of his policies while 
occasionally signaling he's not in lockstep with his leadership style.

   At 71, Romney is looking to re-start his political career in Utah, where 
he's a beloved adopted son known for turning around the 2002 Salt Lake City 
Olympics and for his status as the first Mormon major-party presidential 
candidate. He spoke Wednesday to a group of neighbors clad in baseball caps and 
red gingham at a backyard gathering in American Fork, south of Salt Lake City.

   Attending was English teacher Claudia Dorsey, 67, a moderate Republican who 
said she feels "pretty good about Mitt" but is still deciding how she'll cast 
her ballot. Dorsey said she's not a fan of Trump and was sad to see Romney tone 
down his criticism.

   "I'm disappointed, but I can see why he's doing it," she said. "In order to 
get anywhere in the Republican party, you need to be over on that far side, and 
so that's very limiting for those of us who, we don't want to go that far, we 
want to be more in the middle."

   Romney has been endorsed by Trump and is favored to win in the race to 
replace long-serving Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is retiring. But he was 
forced into a runoff primary after a loss at the state's party convention, 
where a core group of hard right-leaning Republican party members narrowly 
chose state Rep. Mike Kennedy. Neither won 60 percent of delegates' votes to 
secure the nomination outright.

   Kennedy says he's the true conservative on issues like the national debt and 
gun rights.

   Romney remains the target of animus for some Trump supporters who say he 
could be a thorn in the president's side as a senator. Kennedy has channeled 
that, questioning whether Romney can get along with the president while touting 
himself as a "refreshing opportunity in Washington to actually get some things 
done."

   But while Trump critics have been falling in races elsewhere in the country, 
in majority-Mormon Utah, many voters have long been uneasy with aspects of 
Trump's brash style. Trump won the state in 2016, but by a smaller margin than 
previous GOP candidates.

   Still, Kennedy says he's seen residents who, like him, have become Trump 
fans. Though he cast a write-in ballot for Ted Cruz in 2016, Kennedy, a family 
doctor and lawyer, said he's since been impressed.

   The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Jenny Wilson. Though 
any GOP candidate would have a big upper hand in conservative Utah, Romney said 
that if he wins the primary, he doesn't plan to let up.

   "These are important times for our country and for our state," he told the 
backyard crowd. "If I'm lucky enough to become our senator, I will do 
everything in my power to keep us strong, economically, militarily, but also to 
keep us good."


(KA)

 
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