SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is stumping for fellow Republican candidates as he sails toward a likely victory Tuesday in the race for a U.S. Senate seat from Utah and a return to public office.
While he's largely avoided direct criticism of President Donald Trump since a scathing speech in 2016, Romney has said he would speak out on significant issues. On Thursday, he took issue with Trump's characterization of the media as an "enemy of the people," saying that a free press is essential to the "cause of freedom."
The online essay was published in the final days before an election when Romney is knocking on doors and joining phone banks for local, state and congressional races in his adopted home state.
The next evening, he read scary stories to children at a corn maze in Lehi, Utah.
He and his wife, Anne, sat around a small bonfire with over 100 children and adults. Mitt Romney also judged a pumpkin pie-eating contest at Cornbelly's Corn Maze and Pumpkin Fest.
Romney has crossed state lines in recent weeks to stump for Republican candidate Martha McSally in Arizona, where she's locked in a tight race for the Senate seat left open by Jeff Flake's decision not to run again.
Romney has also helped with fundraising for Nevada Sen. Dean Heller's tight re-election campaign and Florida Gov. Rick Scott's run for the Senate.
Romney's opponent, Democrat Jenny Wilson, also is working the phones and canvassing for her party's slate. She has criticized Romney's Arizona appearance as evidence that he's more focused on national politics.
Romney's camp points to his meetings and campaign appearances with dozens of Utah officials. It's part of his effort to get out the vote and promote down-ballot candidates, said spokeswoman MJ Henshaw.
The two are vying for the Senate seat to replace Orrin Hatch, who is retiring from the Senate after four decades. The outgoing Republican helped convince Romney to run. Romney appears to be a shoo-in for the seat in the conservative state that hasn't sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1977.
Wilson is a member of the Salt Lake County Council and has a political pedigree as the daughter of a former mayor there.
Romney is one of the most well-known faces in the state since running as the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party in 2012, as well as his work leading the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
He moved to Utah full-time after his presidential loss to Barack Obama. While criticism of Trump has been a political liability for Republicans elsewhere, Romney is able to speak out because many voters are wary of Trump's bombastic style and comments about women and immigrants.
Arguing his high political profile would be a boon to Utah, Romney easily dispatched a rival Republican state lawmaker who forced him into a June primary. He fulfilled a campaign promise to release his tax returns last week, showing he and his wife had a combined gross income of $22.3 million last year.