Little-known Mike Kennedy to take on Mitt Romney in Utah GOP primary

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney will again face a Kennedy in an election with a U.S. Senate seat on the line.

Not one of those Kennedys. (Romney lost to Ted Kennedy in the 1994 Senate race in Massachusetts.)

This is Mike Kennedy, a conservative state legislator from Alpine who outgunned Romney at the Utah Republican Party’s state convention over the weekend, getting himself into a primary election June 26. Romney had already qualified for the ballot through signature gathering.

But who is this guy?

In short, Kennedy is a married father of eight children who works as a family doctor in Lindon. He said he grew up in poverty in a single-parent home. He earned an undergraduate degree from BYU and a medical degree at Michigan State University. He also has a law degree from BYU.

He has served in the Utah House since 2013, but decided in March to not seek re-election.

"As a physician, I’m a trained listener. As an attorney, I’m a trained advocate. And as a legislator, I found that by working together we can solve even our biggest problems," Kennedy said at Saturday’s convention.

Kennedy, 49, sponsored and passed one bill and one resolution in the 2018 Legislature. The bill requires the Utah Driver License Division and the State Board of Education to provide information to student drivers on ways to improve air quality and the harmful effects of vehicle emissions. The resolution permits the Utah State Developmental Center to sell or lease land for a connector road.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, also asked Kennedy to organize the Utah School Safety Commission, created in the wake of recent school shootings to consider ways to make schools safer.

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Romney and Kennedy exchanged well wishes in text messages before the convention and said hello to each other during the event, but haven’t really spoken.

"I don’t know Mike Kennedy terribly well in terms of his posture on issues. I think we’re probably pretty similar," Romney said, noting both endorsed the Utah Republican Party platform.

Kennedy said the national debt is the biggest risk to the country’s future. He said he opposed continuing resolutions and "pork-filled" omnibus bills to fund government. He said he would never vote for legislation lawmakers try to slip by in the middle of the night.

He favors a strong military and national defense, education decisions at the local level, judges like the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and legal immigration. He said he supports President Donald Trump "doing what’s necessary" to protect the borders and enforce immigration laws.

"I’m tired of business as usual in Washington, D.C.," he told delegates. "If you want things to change, you need to vote for change."

Romney, 71, said his business experience, work with the 2002 Winter Games, term as Massachusetts governor and runs for president gives him associations in Washington to get things done.

"Everybody can talk a good game. We’re all for the same policies, but who actually can get the job done?" he said after the convention.

Romney has a sizeable money advantage over Kennedy. His Federal Election Commission report filed earlier this month shows a nearly $1.7 million war chest, including $1 million from his presidential account.

Kennedy reported total contributions of $289,000, including a $250,000 loan from himself.

Kennedy isn’t the first Republican to get himself into a primary with a popular politician in Utah. GOP delegates clearly held signature gathering against Romney, while Kennedy vowed to only take the caucus/convention route.

While that plays well with at the convention, it has yet to propel an underdog to a primary victory.

Jonathan Johnson pushed Gov. Gary Herbert into a primary election but lost big when rank-and-file Republicans went to the polls.

U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, also did poorly at the convention after collecting signatures but easily won the special election primary in a three-way race with Tanner Ainge and former state lawmaker Chris Herrod last year. Herrod narrowly forced a primary against Curtis again this year.

The winner of the Kennedy-Romney matchup would likely take on Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, the Democratic front-runner heading into the Utah Democratic Party state convention Saturday.

They are vying to replace Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is retiring after seven terms at the end of the year.

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