SALT LAKE CITY — A dozen Republicans jumped into the U.S. Senate race before Thursday's candidate filing deadline — many of them saying they’re gunning for Mitt Romney.
Romney seems to be enjoying incumbent status even though the only elected office he has held is governor of Massachusetts. Utah State Auditor John Dougall, a Republican who flirted with a run himself, complained earlier that Romney's candidacy should drive a conversation, not a coronation.
But it has started a conversation — all about Romney.
To wit, from various GOP candidate announcements and websites:
• "Dr. Mike Kennedy, three-term member of the Utah State House of Representatives, from northern Utah County, filed to run for U.S. Senate as a Republican against former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney today."
• "Perhaps it's this 'rebellious' streak — re-emergent in alternating generations of his family tree — that compels Sam (Parker) to run against Mitt Romney for the U.S. Senate."
• "St. George attorney and Utah Republican assembly leader Larry Meyers is taking on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney for the Utah Republican Party nomination for the U.S. Senate. Unlike Romney, Meyers is a longtime Utah resident and will be a strong voice supporting the conservative movement and limited, constitutional government."
Still, Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, is the clear favorite in the race to replace retiring seven-term Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"I don't know that the front-runner status is ever anything other than an anchor for whoever takes that title," Romney said after filing his candidacy Thursday.
But to the other Republican candidates in the race, "Come on in. The water's fine," he said. "We'll enjoy the time together, and we'll see them on the trail."
In all, 19 candidates — 12 Republicans, four Democrats and one each from the Libertarian, Constitution and Independent American parties — signed up to run for Senate. The deadline for declaring candidacy for federal, state and local elected offices was Thursday.
Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson has been campaigning since last summer and officially filed to run Tuesday. She appears to have the inside track among the four Democrats seeking the party's nomination.
Like some Republicans, Wilson said she too is concerned about a Romney coronation.
"He's been through a rigorous race before, and he should not be given a free ride by anybody," she said. "I'm ready to battle. I welcome it."
Dougall said he would have felt obliged to "answer the call" if it appeared the GOP would simply "rubber-stamp" Romney as the new senator.
"But we now have several good Republican candidates in the race for the nomination, and I wish them all well," Dougall posted on Facebook. "I plan to join my fellow Republicans in examining very closely what each believes and plans to do as Utah's senator."
Other Republicans running for Senate are: Tim Jimenez, Stoney Fonua, Jeremy Friedbaum, Alicia Colvin, Joshua C. Lee, Loy Brunson, Torrey Jenkins and Abe Lincoln Brian Jenkins. Other Democrats are: Mitchell Vice, Larry Livingston and Jeff Dransfield. Libertarian Craig R. Bowden, Constitution Party candidate Tim Aalders and Independent American Reed C. McCandless also filed.
Utah's four U.S. House members — Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart, John Curtis and Mia Love, all Republicans — filed to run for re-election.
Five Democrats, including Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, are vying for the chance to face Love in the 4th District. The others are Morgan Shepherd, Sheldon Kirkham, Tom Taylor and Darlene McDonald.
In the 3rd District, former GOP state lawmaker Chris Herrod filed to run against Curtis. Herrod lost to Curtis in the Republican primary last year in the race to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who resigned midterm.
Other Republicans candidates in the 3rd District are: Steven Stromness, Henry Rudolph Kneitz III and Michael David Leavitt. Democrats James Courage Singer and Kent Moon, Independent American Gregory C. Duerden and United Utah candidate Melanie McCoard also filed to run.
In the 1st District, Bishop's challengers are Republican Kevin Probasco and Chadwick H. Fairbanks III, Democrats Lee Castillo and Kurt Weiland, Green Party candidate Adam Davis and United Utah candidate Eric Eliason.
In the 2nd District, Stewart faces Republican Mary Burkett and Ken Clark, Democrats Randy Hopkins and Shireen Ghorbani, Libertarian Jeffrey Whipple and United Utah candidate Jan Garbett.
The Utah Republican Party State Central Committee's recent bylaw change has caused lingering confusion among GOP candidates. Under the rule, Republicans candidates in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts — the ones held by Bishop and Stewart, respectively — who gather signatures to get on the primary election ballot would be kicked out of the party.
The state elections office said Thursday it is sticking by the state law that allows candidates to collect signatures or go through the caucus and convention system to secure a party's nomination.
A list of candidate filings can be found at elections.utah.gov.