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Race to replace Romney takes shape in Utah after he announces retirement; some jockey for position

The Utah lawmaker, venture capitalist and former presidential candidate has faced considerable backlash from Republicans due to his frequent clashes with former President Donald Trump and occasional votes for left-wing legislation.

Published: September 13, 2023 11:00pm

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney on Wednesday announced that he would not seek reelection in 2024, contending that it is time for a younger generation of leaders to enter Congress and setting up what is likely to be a crowded Republican primary.

Romney served as a Senator since 2019, and before that was the Governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007.

The Utah lawmaker has faced considerable backlash from Republicans due to his frequent clashes with former President Donald Trump and occasional votes for left-wing legislation. A report from political newsletter 538 estimates that Romney voted in line with President Joe Biden's legislative priorities 58.2% of the time. Romney's enmity with Trump dates back to at least 2016, when Romney called Trump a "phony" and a "fraud" in a speech in Salt Lake City, reported USAToday

Trump, for his part, celebrated Romney's departure, and seemingly suggested that the senator's decision was linked to the prospect of a stiff primary battle should he run again.

"Fantastic news for America, the great state of Utah, & for the Republican Party," Trump stated on his TruthSocial account. "Mitt Romney, sometimes referred to as Pierre Delecto, will not be seeking a second term in the U.S. Senate, where he did not serve with distinction. A big primary fight against him was in the offing, but now that will not be necessary. Congrats to all. Make America great Again!"

Romney's moderate leanings often frustrated Republicans, even within his state, and he already had at least one primary challenger before making his announcement. Here is a look at who might replace him.

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs

Staggs declared his challenge to Romney in May of this year, expressing consternation with the senator's positions on immigration, spending, and social issues, while also excoriating him for his repeated personal spats with Trump.

"The only thing I've seen him fight for are the establishment, wokeness, open borders, impeaching President Trump, and putting us even deeper into debt," Staggs said of Romney. 

In June of this year, during an appearance on the "Just the News, No Noise" television show, Staggs insisted that Utahns felt betrayed by Romney and were eager for an alternative.

"They feel like Senator Romney has not represented them, has not represented their values — particularly Republicans — and so many have come out wanting somebody else who's a true conservative," he said. "Utahns deserve a true conservative to represent them in the seat."

According to Staggs' official biography, "Prior to his current role, he served as Technology VP on the corporate leadership team of a global direct sales company that operates in over 35 markets and held management positions for a nationwide mortgage brokerage firm and at Morgan Stanley."

Speaker of the House Brad Wilson

Wilson has not officially declared his candidacy, but has formed a committee to explore a Senate bid. Should he ultimately opt to seek the seat, he would likely attract considerable support from state lawmakers.

His exploratory committee signaled that a Wilson campaign would have the support of roughly three-quarters of Utah's state representatives and roughly two-thirds of its state senators.

"I am honored and encouraged to have the support of so many leaders from all corners of this great state. Utah needs a bold, conservative fighter in the U.S. Senate and I am humbled at the support and encouragement we’ve received so quickly," Wilson said in August.

Wilson does not appear to have publicly commented on Romney's retirement as of press time.

One of several of the state's congressmen

Utah has former representatives in the U.S. Congress, including Reps. Blake Moore, Chris Stewart, John Curtis, and Burgess Owens. None appear to have publicly expressed interest in a Senate run, though a bid from one of the state's sitting congressmen would be far from surprising. The Deseret News refers to congressmen as currently "jockeying" for a chance at replacing Romney.

Owens does not seem to have commented on Romney's resignation, though his three contemporaries all wished the senator well on X following his announcement.

"I'm grateful to have worked with him on critical issues including strengthening our posture against China, preserving the Great Salt Lake, advocating for Hill Air Force Base, and tackling our national debt," Moore stated.

"Thank you [Senator Romney] for your dedicated public service to our state and to the country. I wish you and Ann all the best," Stewart posted.

"I want to express my appreciation to Senator Romney for his dedication to public service. I look forward to our continued work on behalf of Utahns and wish Ann and Mitt the best," Curtis said.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter.

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