Mitt Romney, who once ran for the US presidency against Barack Obama, appeared set for a political comeback Tuesday when veteran Republican Orrin Hatch said he is retiring from the US Senate.
Hatch's announcement that he will not run in this year's mid-terms could spell bad news for President Donald Trump, who had encouraged him not to quit and clear the way for a Senate run by Romney, an outspoken critic who once dubbed Trump a "fraud."
After months of public deliberation about whether to retire, Hatch, currently his party's longest-serving senator, said he will not seek re-election in November, bringing an end to his 40-year Senate career.
"Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching," the 83-year-old Hatch, a former amateur boxer, said in a video message to supporters.
"That's why, after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I've decided to retire at the end of this term."
Hatch's departure sets up what could be a return to national politics for Romney, who was the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and served four years as governor of Massachusetts.
His strong name recognition and stature as a respected establishment Republican would make him the instant frontrunner in conservative Utah, where he also has roots.
It could also lead to a nightmare scenario for Trump: a party stalwart becoming a thorn in the president's side in Washington.
In a 2016 speech, Romney called Trump a "phony, a fraud," who was "playing the members of the American public for suckers."
The comments placed Romney at the forefront of the anti-Trump coalition within the Republican Party.
In recent months Romney has toned down the criticism, but occasionally speaks out on issues of national policy.
In early December, shortly after Trump visited Utah where he urged Hatch to run for another term, Romney attacked Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, whom Trump endorsed earlier in the day.