DemDaily: Romney Retirement a Boon to Conservatives

September 20, 2023

Utah Senator Mitt Romney announced last week that he will not be seeking reelection, becoming the fith member of the upper chamber to retire when their terms end with the 2024 elections.

In a video message to Utahans, Romney, 76, touted his achievements before assailing both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden on a series of international and domestic issues. "Political motivations," he said, "too often impede the solutions that these challenges demand. The next generation of leaders must take America to the next stage of global leadership."

Romney, whose father George was a former Michigan governor and 1968 Republican presidential candidate, amassed a fortune in the private equity business before successfully running for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002. He was the Republican nominee for president in 2012, losing to Barack Obama by four points, and in 2018, was elected to the US Senate from Utah, winning 62.59% of the vote.

Romney's departure will leave a large void among moderate Congressional Republicans, whose numbers have dwindled in recent years as the GOP has become increasingly polarized under the influence of Donald Trump.

A vocal Trump critic, Romney was the only Republican senator to vote to convict the former president at both his Senate impeachment trials -- with repercussions back home.

The ruby red state, where two-thirds of the residents, like Romney, are members of the Mormon church, delivered a 58.13% victory to Trump in 2020.

According to an April 1-June 30 quarterly Morning Consult survey, Romney had a 50% approval/41% disapproval rating from Utah voters, and a 48% approval/42% disapproval among state Republicans (MOE: +/-3%).

A May 22-June 1 Deseret News poll showed 44% of Utahans felt Romney represented their political and policy preferences over Trump, who received 31%. But among Republicans, 47% say Trump best represents them, while 39% say Romney, with 14% choosing “other.” (MOE: +/-3.46%).

Utah's US Senate primary elections will take place on June 25, 2024

The Race
Romney had already drawn two GOP primary challengers among a field that is likely to align more with Utah's senior senator, conservative Trump ally Mike Lee.

State House Speaker Brad Wilson, who formed an exploratory committee in April, reported raising $2.2 in his first two months, which included a $1.2 million personal loan to his campaign.

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who announced his candidacy in May, raised $220,573 in his first month. Former 2022 Arizona Republican candidate for governor Kari Lake, was the headliner at a fundraiser for Staggs this week.

Other prominent possibilities include former Congressman Jason Chaffetz (CD-3), Congressman Blake Moore (CD-1), and founder and former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad Tim Ballard, among others.

Potential Democratic primary contenders include Utah Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla; former Congressman Ben McAdams (CD-4); former US State Department official, 2022 US Senate candidate and 2020 nominee for Utah's 2nd congressional district Kael Weston; and Salt Lake County Mayor and 2018 Democratic nominee for US Senate Jenny Wilson, among others.

Note: In the September 5 Special Election Primary for Utah's Second Congressional District, Celeste Maloy, legal counsel to outgoing Congressman Chris Stewart, won the GOP nomination. In the close final count, Maloy won 38.8% of the vote to former State Representative Becky Edwards' 32.7% and former Utah Republican Party Chair Bruce Hough who secured 28.4%

Maloy will face off against State Senate Minority Whip Kathleen Riebe, the Democratic nominee. The special general election will take place November 21, 2023.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: AP, Reuters, Politico, Romney Senate office, Morning Consult, Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune

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