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US Politics

Mitt Romney wins Republican primary in Utah senate race, as a Democrat heavyweight in New York is ousted by a Sanders socialist

Romney’s win was largely expected – but the victory of 28-year-old Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over incumbent Representative Joe Crowley is being seen as a massive upset

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 June, 2018, 11:05pm

Former US presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s return to politics is now official, after he handily won the Republican primary for a Utah Senate seat Tuesday after toning down his criticism of Donald Trump.

Voters in Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah picked candidates on Tuesday for the November 6 midterm elections that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of both chambers of the US Congress as well as numerous gubernatorial seats.

The biggest upset of the day took place In New York, where Democrat Representative Joseph Crowley – a 10-term incumbent seen as a possible party leader in the House – was felled by 28-year-old challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from the party’s more-liberal faction inspired by Bernie Sanders.

Romney, on the other hand, had been a heavy favourite to win the primary in the race to replace retiring Senator Orrin Hatch in Utah, where he’s a beloved adopted son.

But Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential candidate who lost to Barack Obama, was forced into a primary after a narrow loss to state lawmaker Mike Kennedy in front of a right-leaning group of core Republican Party party members at the state convention in April.

During the campaign, Kennedy painted his political-heavyweight opponent as an out-of-towner who couldn’t get along with Trump. He didn’t immediately concede the race Tuesday.

Romney blasted Trump as a “phoney” and a “fraud,” during the 2016 presidential campaign, but the two men have largely buried the hatchet.

Romney has accepted the president’s endorsement and predicted he’ll win another term in 2020, though he’s also said he’ll speak out on significant matters he considers racist, sexist or anti-immigrant.

At a festive primary election night party, dozens of Romney supporters gathered near an inflatable bouncy castle, munching on snow cones and hot dogs as country music and classic rock played from speakers.

Romney spoke surrounded by his wife, Ann, and some of their children and grandchildren at sunset on a podium set in front of picturesque mountains.

He promised to “make sure that the example I set as a leader is consistent with the values of our state and the great founding values of the United States of America” in Washington.

He now faces Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, though Republican Party candidates have a big upper hand in the conservative state.

Romney moved to Utah in 2012. He’s known there for turning around the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics after a bribery scandal and later becoming the first Mormon presidential nominee of a major political party.

In New York, Crowley’s upset loss on Tuesday highlighted the ideological battles at play in this year’s midterm elections.

Crowley, fourth in line in the House of Representatives’ Democratic leadership, was defeated by Ocasio-Cortez in a safely Democratic district in New York City.

Political analysts cast Ocasio-Cortez’s 15-point win as the biggest upset since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, lost in 2014 to a little-known right-wing professor, Dave Brat.

The outcome of the race in New York added fuel to the battle between the Democratic Party’s establishment wing, led by long-time House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and a more liberal faction inspired by Bernie Sanders’ presidential run in 2016.

According to a detailed profile this week in Vogue, just months ago Ocasio-Cortez was still working as a server in a restaurant. She identifies as a Democratic socialist and supporter of Bernie Sanders.

“What you have shown is that this nation is never beyond remedy. It is never beyond hope,” Octavio-Cortez told her cheering supporters. “We are going to rock the world in the next two years.”

Should Democrats win control of the House of Representatives in November, Crowley would have been considered on the shortlist for speaker. Instead, after conceding the race, he said he would support Ocasio-Cortez in the general election.

“The Trump administration is a threat to everything we stand for here in Queens and the Bronx, and if we don’t win back the House this November, we will lose the nation we love,” Crowley said in a statement.

Crowley later dedicated a song to Octavio-Cortez as he played guitar and sang with supporters in a bar - it was Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run.

Meanwhile, two Republicans backed by Trump prevailed in their nominating contests Tuesday night, again underscoring his influence among the party’s voters.

In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster beat businessman John Warren in a run-off election held a day after the incumbent campaigned alongside the president.

In a bitter match-up in New York City’s Staten Island borough, incumbent Dan Donovan easily held off the man he replaced in Congress, Michael Grimm, who resigned three years ago after pleading guilty to tax fraud.

Democrats need to flip 23 of 435 seats to take over the House of Representatives, which would stymie much of Trump’s agenda while likely opening up new avenues of investigation into his administration. They would have to net two seats to take the Senate, but face longer odds there.

Additional reporting by Reuters