SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney isn't ready to announce he's running for Senate, but he's already looking for a campaign headquarters and putting together a team, one of his closest friends in Utah told the Deseret News.
"He's not announcing until he's in a position to announce," said Kem Gardner, a real estate developer who has known Romney for many years. "I think he wants to run, but he wants to be prepared to run."
Gardner said despite speculation, Romney won't use his keynote address at Tuesday's Utah Economic Outlook and Policy Summit to talk about the race for the seat now held by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"I can tell you he's not planning on announcing next week. He's not ready," Gardner said. The venue, a sold-out event that attracts business leaders from the state, wasn't the right place to launch a campaign either, he said.
"He's giving a speech to the (Salt Lake) Chamber. I'm the one who asked him to do it," Gardner said. "He's been working hard on his speech. It's not a political speech" but one focused on economics.
Romney likely won't even mention the Senate race, Gardner said.
So when is a formal announcement from Romney going to come? "Hopefully, before the end of the month," Gardner said.
Although there has been talk for months about a possible run by Romney, the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee, he was waiting for Hatch to decide whether to seek an eighth term this year.
It wasn't until last week that Hatch, 83, said he would retire after 42 years in the Senate. Romney has waited, Gardner said, because "he didn't want to look like he was crowding Orrin or doing anything to send a signal he was going to run."
Hatch's retirement announcement:
Now, though, Romney can move forward with readying a campaign, he said, finding a headquarters, hiring a staff and preparing to handle what is expected to be a deluge of media interest from around the country.
"What he is doing right now is looking to put together the groundwork for an organzation he feels comfortable with. This is something that should have been done a year ago," Gardner said, given the election is in November.
People may be "not very sympathetic to the problems (Romney) faces," he said. "Here he is trying to set up a senatorial campaign" on a tight time frame. Gardner said, for his part, he's "cutting him a lot of slack. I'm not pushing him."
Romney is one of Utah's most popular politicians, winning big in the 2008 GOP presidential primary against Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party's eventual nominee that year, and in the 2012 presidential race against President Barack Obama.
He is not expected to face significant Republican opposition in Utah, a place he has called home for several years. Romney last lived in the state when Gardner helped talk him into taking over the then-troubled 2002 Winter Games in 1999.
Massachusetts voters apparently have an opinion — a mostly positive one — about Romney jumping into the Senate race in Utah.
In a WBUR/MassINC Polling Group survey posted on Masslive.com on Wednesday, 54 percent said Romney considering a Senate run is a "good idea." Twenty-nine percent said it was a "bad idea." The poll queried 503 registered voters.
Romney served one term as Massachusetts governor after being elected in 2002 following a successful Olympics. He ran an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 1994 against Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Meantime, the Boston Globe reported that Romney's wife, Ann, is encouraging her husband to run in Utah.
Ann Romney — a confidante for nearly all of Romney’s adult life and frequent catalyst for his political ambitions — is fully supporting a campaign for Senate, another strong indicator he will run, according to four people close to the Romneys. Her own battle with multiple sclerosis is not a major factor, with all signs indicating that her health remains strong, the people said.
“I think most folks would love to have the relationship Ann and Mitt have — an Ozzie and Harriet-esque, honest relationship,” said one of the people, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity, according to the Globe. “It’s easy to say she would be very supportive. To say the least.”
"She’s on board,” said a second person. "Ann is supportive, and she thinks Mitt would be a fabulous senator."