BOISE, Idaho — Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday endorsed Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist in the race to become Idaho’s next governor in 2018.
Romney said in a statement distributed by Ahlquist’s campaign that he’s backing Ahlquist because the political newcomer’s experience as a doctor and businessman has helped make him qualified for the top position.
“As a former governor, I can tell you that Tommy is uniquely suited to bring new ideas and a fresh approach to leading Idaho as its next governor,” Romney said.
Romney is considered a high-profile endorsement in Idaho — particularly in the eastern half of the state — due to both his prominence as a Mormon and the goodwill he earned across the Rocky Mountain region from his role running the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Ahlquist, who is also a Mormon, has previously said Romney is one of his role models. Both are seen as political outsiders and successful businessmen.
“Gov. Romney is living proof that real-world business experience paired with conservative principles and hard work makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our fellow citizens,” Ahlquist said.
The endorsement announcement came as a top Republican strategist also with ties to Romney quietly launched a new political action committee in Idaho earlier this year.
GOP operative Carl Forti filed the paperwork to create Building Idaho’s Future, Inc.
He has not revealed which candidate will receive his support. However, he held a top job with the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future — the super PAC that helped Romney secure his bid for the Republican presidential nomination
Romney in 2014 supported Idaho’s Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, U.S. Sen. James Risch and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson.
Ahlquist faces Republicans Lt. Gov. Brad Little and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador in the Idaho GOP primary election in May. Otter has said he will not seek a fourth term and has endorsed Little.
No major Democratic candidate has filed to run for the seat in the state that has not had a Democratic governor since 1995, when Cecil Andrus finished serving his last of four non-consecutive terms.