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These dynamics help explain how Romney has managed to remain so popular in a heavily Republican state (one poll put his statewide favorability rating at 69 percent) while keeping his distance from a Republican president. And while a handful of obscure Republicans have expressed interest in challenging Romney, he is widely favored to win the primary and the general. As Arquette told me, “I think the coronation has already begun for Mitt Romney.”

Romney’s influence in the state was on full display this week, when Utah Republican Chairman Rob Anderson gave an interview to the Salt Lake Tribune harshly criticizing the Romney’s candidacy. “I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let’s face it, Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here,” he told the paper, adding, “He has never been a Trump supporter.”

Instead of casting doubt on Romney’s chances at the seat, Anderson’s remarks were met with a swift and punishing backlash from Utah Republicans. One top elected official told me he was “shocked” by the comments. Another high-powered Republican called the interview “idiocy,” while a third charitably chalked it up to Anderson’s “anxiousness” and “inexperience.” (All three sources requested anonymity to offer candid assessments of a local party leader.) By day’s end, Anderson was forced into a full retreat, releasing a statement that praised Romney and expressed “regret” that his comments “came across as disparaging or unsupportive.”

But if Romney appears politically invincible now in the state he hopes to represent—and champion—in Washington, his advisers insist that he’s not taking anything for granted. In the weeks to come, he is expected to travel the state extensively, meeting with voters, immersing himself in hyperlocal issues, and prioritizing Utah news outlets over national media.

“I think when he pulls up in his pickup truck in a county convention with the other candidates and walks up without a big entourage, Utahns are going to be blown away by that,” said Thomas Wright, a Republican National Committee Member from Utah. “I think that’s what he’s going to do.”

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