SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
You may not be familiar with Utah's upcoming Tuesday primary election. But how about this name on the ballot? Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts and former presidential nominee is now a current Senate candidate. He's running for the open seat of retiring Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. Nicole Nixon of member station KUER joins Romney on the trail, where he's balancing past criticisms of President Trump with his support for the party's agenda.
NICOLE NIXON, BYLINE: A little over two years ago, Mitt Romney warned Republicans against nominating Donald Trump as their presidential candidate.
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MITT ROMNEY: Here's what I know - Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.
NIXON: These days, it's a different story. Romney has accepted Trump's endorsement. And this is the line he frequently repeats on the campaign trail...
ROMNEY: When the president's right, I'll be with him. When I disagree with him, I'll point that out.
NIXON: He did that earlier this week, condemning the Trump administration's policy that led to family separation at the border. As far as Trump's style, Romney says he'll continue to call out the president's behavior when he thinks it's right.
ROMNEY: There have been a number of things on the personal front, if you will, tweets and so forth that I have found objectionable. And I point that out. You know, I call them like I see them.
How you guys doing today?
NIXON: Each week, Romney's team shows up at a park somewhere in Utah with yard signs and coolers full of ice cream sandwiches. This week, they're in a suburb of Salt Lake City. Romney says a few words and takes some questions. Alli DeSpain (ph) says she's all in.
ALLI DESPAIN: He's well-known. He knows more people, I'm sure, since he's been around the country campaigning to be president.
NIXON: A lot of voters here were upset when Romney lost the presidential race in 2012. Some see a Senate seat as a consolation prize. Alli DeSpain's husband, Kevin, who's holding one of their small children, says they've done their research on the Republican primary candidates.
KEVIN DESPAIN: We have heard a lot of good things about Mike Kennedy, as well. But we - if there's someone I want to represent us in Utah, it's somebody like Romney.
NIXON: Mike Kennedy is a conservative state lawmaker who's challenging Romney from the right. At a recent parade, Kennedy was out shaking every hand he could. As the underdog, he says he has to.
K. DESPAIN: Shaking hands with people, meeting in their backyards, doing parades, making sure that they know that I'm out there and want to serve them if they would like me to serve them.
NIXON: Despite Romney's name recognition, Kennedy believes his pro-Trump message will carry him into the general election.
MIKE KENNEDY: Frankly, I think this state, which was relatively lukewarm to President Trump's presidency when he came in, has converted. Why? The work product is truly reflective of conservative values.
NIXON: But polls don't really reflect a full-on conversion. Trump's approval ratings are rarely above 50 percent here. Those same polls show Romney with a commanding lead in this Tuesday's Senate primary. For NPR News, I'm Nicole Nixon in Salt Lake City.
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