SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney abruptly canceled the online launch of his U.S. Senate campaign scheduled for Thursday, citing the deadly shooting at a Florida school Wednesday.
"As a father and grandfather, my heart aches for the victims of today’s tragic events. My prayers go out to all of the families and loved ones affected by this senseless act of violence," he tweeted.
"Out of respect for the victims and their families, I will not be making an announcement tomorrow about the Senate race."
Out of respect for the victims and their families, I will not be making an announcement tomorrow about the Senate race. (2/2)— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 15, 2018
Romney didn't say when he would reschedule what was to be a video message announcing his candidacy.
The 2012 GOP presidential nominee planned to make an "all-digital" announcement, said Romney's longtime supporter Kirk Jowers, adding many candidates are choosing that route because that's how voters get their news.
"It kind of allows everyone to a part of it, whereas the more traditional way, it feels a little more confining," he said.
Romney is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Utah County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner in Provo on Friday.
Utah’s adopted favorite son would become the instant front-runner to replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, when gets into the race.
Since telling the Deseret News a year ago this month that he was leaving the door open for another run for political office, Romney has been coy about his future. Speculation that he would run amped up after Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, announced his retirement in early January.
Romney, 70, has not faced the media during that time, and has deflected questions about running when reporters have caught up to him. He spoke at two conventions in Salt Lake City last month but didn't address or joked about the lingering question. His commentary on political issues, including criticizing President Donald Trump, has come via Twitter or Facebook.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, an ardent Trump supporter, said he and Romney talked last fall and he supports his candidacy. He said government doesn't work well when there's infighting.
"I'd like to hear from Mitt how do we navigate things like that given that nobody's perfect and there's criticism we can all have for elected officials," he said.
Hughes said Romney expressed "strong desire" to work with Trump to get things done.
"My comfort level really rose as we discussed that," he said.
Romney, who spent much of his professional life in Massachusetts, where he served as governor, is best known in Utah for turning around the scandal-ridden 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He now lives in an upscale neighborhood in Holladay.
Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson has been campaigning for Hatch’s seat since last summer. Democrat Mitchell Vice and Libertarian Craig Bowden are also running.
"I frankly don't understand the arms-length approach. I think Utahns deserve somebody who is willing to engage," said Wilson, who started campaigning last June.
Wilson, who earlier chided Romney about which state he would declare his candidacy from, said she jumped into the race not knowing who she would face or the odds of winning because Utahns' voices aren't being heard.
"Utah families deserve a Utahn as their senator, not a Massachusetts governor who thinks of our state as his vacation home," she said.
Jowers said the notion that Romney isn't a Utahn is "hilarious" and that he's "obviously a fixture" in the state going back to childhood visits, college and the Olympics.
"Rommey is not an ousdier to Utah. His whole life has been tied to Utah," he said.
Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson said it didn't to matter to voters in New York that Hilary Clinton ran for Senate there nor did they seem unhappy with their representation.
"If he meets the criteria, he should be allowed to run," he said.
But Anderson said he's a "little disappointed" that other GOP candidates feel like they can't run because of the organization and clout Romney brings to the campaign. Romney has deep pockets and vast fundraising network.
That apparently hasn't dissuaded everyone, at least from thinking about it.
Republican State Auditor John Dougall said he's seriously considering running for the seat. He told U.S. News he's driven by "the importance of having a conversation rather than a coronation."
Dougall did not return messages left by the Deseret News.
"We need to talk about what we want our U.S. senator to be rather than talk about who it should be," Dougall said. "And as an auditor, I know that single-source bidding is no way to do business."
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he considers Dougall a good friend from the days they served together in the Legislature. But he said taking on Romney won't be easy.
"I just think it's a big challenge. Romney's name and approval rating is going to be very high," Niederhauser said.
Still, he said "it's good for everybody, bar none," to face competition.
Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, who was behind an online petition encouraging Romney to get in the Senate race, also said the race will benefit from additional GOP candidates.
"Now, I think Romney would win," he said. "But I think our election process works better with people running."
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche