SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Romney confirmed Tuesday he won't challenge Sen. Mike Lee in next year's U.S. Senate race but said he'd like to see another Republican run against the first-term senator.
During a lengthy interview with KSL, the middle of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's five sons also talked about his father's decision not to try again for 2016 as well as the Republicans still in the running for the White House.
Once again, Josh Romney took himself out of the running for an elected office in Utah despite being recruited "hard, really hard" to take on Lee by Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson, who recently joined Lee's campaign.
"That was a real surprise to me," Romney said of Anderson's decision to back Lee after reportedly discussing the race with several potential Republican candidates. "That almost made me want to run."
A recent UtahPolicy.com poll showed Lee would face a tough fight from Romney. At the time, Romney did not comment, but he had said in an interview earlier this year he probably wouldn't enter politics anytime soon.
Romney said, for now, he's focusing on his young family, his real estate development business and his charity work, although he's open to running for office in the future.
"Politics is in my blood, unfortunately. It's something I've seen and I've loved," he said. "I'm not sure what I'd do, or what capacity I'd run in, but I'm definitely looking to it."
Previously, Romney had considered a bid for Congress against then-Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.
This election cycle, he's supporting GOP Gov. Gary Herbert's re-election while watching other races closely, especially Lee's. Romney said it would be good for Lee to face a Republican opponent.
I've talked to a few different people who I think are back and forth a little bit. I'm not sure who's going to get into it. We'll see how the race plays out. In politics, things can change in a big hurry. Right now everything looks pretty static.
"I think it's good for positions to be sharpened, and I'd like to see a debate and see some ideas thrown out there," Romney said, although he promised he's not "going to go out and encourage people, or try to recruit anyone to run" against Lee.
Even so, Romney said, the race may be far from over.
"I've talked to a few different people who I think are back and forth a little bit. I'm not sure who's going to get into it," he said. "We'll see how the race plays out. In politics, things can change in a big hurry. Right now everything looks pretty static."
Romney did not name any potential candidates. He said he respects Lee for "fighting for principles he believes in strongly" even though he considers the senator's role in the federal government shutdown in 2013 "a mistake" that damaged the GOP.
"I think that was very divisive. I think it probably hurt the Republican Party politically," Romney said of showdown over President Barack Obama's health care law led by Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "It could have been handled better."
Still, Romney said Lee appears to be more willing to compromise.
"I think Sen. Cruz and Sen. Lee learned that maybe that wasn't the best political move," he said. "We can disagree vehemently with the other party and have some real issues, but I think at the end of the day we've got to find ways to work together."
It was the shutdown, which cost Utah millions of dollars, that sparked talk of a Republican challenge to Lee. Spencer Zwick, the Utahn who raised a billion dollars as Mitt Romney's national finance chairman in 2012, was especially adamant.
Zwick called Lee a "show horse" who "just wants to be a spectacle" in a 2013 Washington Post article, warning he and others in the business community would work against Lee's re-election.
Photo credit: Scott G. Winterton/Deseret News
Zwick did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment about Lee's race, but Josh Romney said he understands the sentiment, particularly since Lee was slow to endorse Mitt Romney's campaign despite his overwhelming support in Utah.
"I think that made him pretty upset," Josh Romney said of Zwick. "But I doubt we're going to be campaigning very hard against Sen. Lee. But we'll see. We don't know who's going to be in the race."
Romney said his father's decision earlier this year not to make a third try for the White House was made for "purely political" reasons. He said he disagrees "a little bit" with that reasoning.
"He thought that maybe he was not the best person at this point to do it. He was hoping that someone else could come up and really have a better chance of beating Hillary Clinton," the likely Democratic Party nominee, Romney said.
Rather than "someone who's had his chance," Romney said his father believes the party needs "a young, up and coming star … who could really catch fire across the country and connect maybe with more minority and female voters."
That's a description that could fit any number of the current crop of GOP presidential candidates, Romney said. And although he likes "a few" contenders so far, including Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, he isn't ready to make up his mind yet.
I think it's good for positions to be sharpened, and I'd like to see a debate and see some ideas thrown out there.
Rubio would "definitely be on the shortlist of people I really admire and support," Romney said, because he "has a lot of energy and charisma, has a great story, and really understands the issues and what it's going to take to turn this country around."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, seen by some as the GOP front-runner, might not be the Republican Party's best choice, Romney suggested, because both his father and brother have been president and George H.W. Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton.
"That could be problematic. We'll see what the country thinks. That's the No. 1 concern," Romney said. "That is a big issue we've had, the Clinton-Bush rivalry before, and the Bushes came up short, unfortunately."
Another GOP presidential candidate, Cruz, is already off Romney's list because he "would create too much division and not allow that unity to take place," which is needed to fix a Washington that "is completely broken."
What role the Romneys play in the 2016 presidential election remains to be seen.
"I can't imagine sitting on the sidelines for too long," Josh Romney said. "I know my dad would be very hesitant to get in early and endorse someone just because he doesn't want to mix up the race too much."
About all Romney knows for sure about the 2016 race is that it won't include his father, now a Utah resident.
"I can't foresee a scenario where he gets in," Josh Romney said. "That's it."
Contributing: Geoff Liesik