Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is heading to represent Utah in the U.S. Senate according to preliminary election results Tuesday night.

Romney was running against Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson. She said late Tuesday night she felt Democrats made inroads this year.

“I believe Democrats had more energy this year,” Wilson said. “My sense is we did make some progress in this state.”

According to Utah County election results posted as of 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Romney, with 41,818 votes, was well ahead of Wilson’s tally of 8,087 votes. In Salt Lake County, the unofficial election results as of 10 p.m. were a bit closer: Romney had 358,304 of the votes or 61.22 percent, and Wilson had 193,344 of the votes or 33.04 percent.

Wilson had an uphill battle against Romney, with his name recognition from his presidential election run and his work on the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Poll numbers in the last few months showed Romney with a strong lead over Wilson, who is in her second term on the Salt Lake County Council. A poll conducted in late August by Dan Jones and Associates for Utah Policy showed Romney taking 55 percent of the vote to Wilson’s 29.

Overall, Wilson said she is very proud of the race she ran.

“I ended up feeling really connected to the community. It was a great journey, and I’d do it again,” Wilson said.

Romney said in an October interview with the Daily Herald that his priorities as senator will revolve around three major issues: the budget, immigration and health care.

After initial election results were posted Tuesday night, Romney spoke to supporters gathered at his campaign headquarters in Orem.

“The victory tonight is more than a victory of a candidate for state senate. I believe it’s a call for greater dignity and respect. I believe it’s an affirmation that regardless of one’s gender, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or race or place of birth — that we are all equal, not only in the eyes of God, but also in the respect and dignity we are due from government and from our fellow Americans,” he said. “It is also a call for action. Action on items that are long past due. Action to finally get us on a path to a balanced budget. Action to reform our immigration system so that legal immigration welcomes people and illegal immigration is ended. And action to push back against the heavy hand of the federal government, because Utah knows best what’s right for Utah.”

Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, and Sean Reyes, Utah’s attorney general, took turns congratulating Romney on his Senate win.

“Mitt Romney cares deeply about people, he cares about Utah,” Reyes said.

Romney thanked his wife, Ann, his family and the 7,000 volunteers that worked on his campaign. He lauded Utahns for this year’s voter turnout, explaining that four years ago, Utah’s voter turnout was around 500,000, but this year over a million people voted. He took a moment to also credit Maj. Brent Taylor, the former North Ogden mayor who recently died in while serving with the Utah National Guard in Afghanistan, for galvanizing the vote through his example.

“Maj. Brent Taylor, husband, father of seven and mayor of North Ogden, gave the last full measure of devotion for freedom’s cause,” Romney said.

Romney, 71, will take the Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s Senate seat. Hatch announced Jan. 2 he would retire at the end of the year after he completes his current term in office. Hatch, 83, has served in the U.S. Senate for more than 40 years and is the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.

Wilson originally announced her Senate run when she expected to run against Hatch. She planned to prioritize health care, compassionate immigration reform and infrastructure improvements if she was elected.

Romney announced his run Feb. 16. During Wilson’s run, she touted that she is a fifth-generation Utahn, as opposed to Romney. Romney is a native of Michigan, served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, and has lived in Utah on and off throughout the years. He’s had a home in Holladay since 2013.

Karissa Neely reports on Business and North County events, and can be reached at 801-344-2537 or kneely@heraldextra.com. Follow her on Twitter: @DHKarissaNeely

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