Utah mayor looks to upset Romney in 2024 GOP primary, says voters feel 'let down' by incumbent

The Riverton mayor says that Utahns don't feel represented by Sen. Mitt Romney.

Published: June 10, 2023 11:45pm

Updated: June 13, 2023 9:13am

A upstart Utah mayor is trying to pull off what would be one of the biggest primary upsets of the 2024 election cycle – knocking off incumbent GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, whom he argues is an interloper and career politician repeatedly out of touch with state voters' conservative values.  

"They have a feeling of being just let down," city of Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs recently said on the "John Solomon Reports" podcast. "Here's somebody who came in and moved to the state. That's something that a lot of Utahns, I think, had to give him a bit of a pass on."

To be sure, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee, has long been embraced in Utah, considering he and his family have kept a vacation home in the state for many years. In addition, he and many of the other residents are Mormons. And he helped bring the 2002 Winter Olympics to the state. 

But since win a Senate seat in 2019, at least some voters, and fellow members of his Senate Republican conference, have become increasing concerns about his conservative credentials. 

Among the concerns in the deep-Red state was that he voted in 2020 and in 2021 to convict then-President Trump, respectively, in Trump's first and second Senate impeachment trial.

The 2020 vote made him the first senator in U.S. history to vote to convict a president of his own party in an impeachment trial, nearly resulting in censure from the Utah state Republican party.

And he did not vote for Trump, now the presumptive frontrunner in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, in 2016 or 2020.

Trump handily won the state both times, with 58% of the vote in 2020

He also has supported gun control measures and marched with Black Lives Matters, both of which Staggs will likely highlight if Romney seeks reelection.

“People elect you and then you follow your conscience,” the 75-year-old Romney recently told the Associated Press. “It would be sad if people who got elected to office tried to calculate their decisions based upon how popular it was at home."

One indication of such is that Staggs has already won a key endorsement from the state's Utah's largest police union, the "Utah State Fraternal Order of Police."

"It's a huge endorsement for us," Staggs said. "It's the first one I've ever sought in any race that I've run, and it was very encouraging and a little unprecedented for them to come out this early and to put their wholehearted endorsement behind our candidacy."

Union President Brian Schnee said in the endorsement that Staggs "continually shows through his words and action what it means to support law enforcement." 

Romney filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission in April, but he hasn't formally announced his reelection bid. 

Staggs says some of the major issues on which he'll run are lowering taxes, preserving Utah's public lands and combatting soft-on-crime policies. 

"Utahns are very conservative," he stated. "They don't like debt. That's the way I've operated my city. We have the lowest debt per capita that we've ever had in our community."

Staggs also said Romney marching with Black Lives Matter during the George Floyd protests in 2020 shows "he's really not backing law enforcement. "

"I'm one who has demonstrated support for law enforcement, even at a time where just a few years ago, it was maybe politically expedient for folks to distance themselves from law enforcement," he continued.

On the issue of who represents Utah voters values, he said, "I'm not a Massachusetts millionaire. I've grown up here. I'm a lifelong Utahn. I went to school here, operated businesses here and served my great community in elected office for 10 years.

"So that's something that has really resonated with people and I think they definitely appreciate that I'm committed to Utah. Utah is my home and I will always represent Utahns."

Several months ago, the anti-tax group Club For Growth said this year's Utah Senate race is one in which its political super PAC could likely get involved, throwing some heft behind a conservative challenger, the Associated Press also reports. 

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