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Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs announces Senate challenge to Mitt Romney

Riverton, Utah, Mayor Trent Staggs delivers his State of the City address on Feb. 8, 2023.
Courtesy City of Riverton
Riverton, Utah, Mayor Trent Staggs delivers his State of the City address on Feb. 8, 2023.

While Utah’s Speaker of the House is still eyeing a bid against Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, a local mayor has already announced his 2024 challenge to the incumbent. In his opening salvo, Trent Staggs tried to set himself apart by stating he is “not a career politician or a Massachusetts millionaire.”

Staggs went public with a video on Twitter where the Republican called Washington “broken.” He criticized Romney for supporting “the establishment wokeness” with “open borders, impeaching President Trump and putting us even deeper into debt.”

The Utah native has been the mayor of the Salt Lake Valley suburb of Riverton for six years. He ran for Salt Lake County mayor but lost to Jenny Wilson in 2020. Staggs identifies as a fiscal conservative and prides himself on taking a “business-oriented approach to government” by lowering taxes and refusing to raise property taxes.

On his campaign website, he said he “has been consistently pro-liberty during the COVID lockdowns, has protected the right to life of the unborn, and pushed back on damaging ‘woke’ policies like ESG.”

Staggs did not respond to KUER’s interview request for this story.

With Staggs throwing his name in the ring, Jason Perry, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, predicts the field will only get more crowded from here.

“A Senate race does not open very often. And there are a lot of people who say, ‘Hey, I've always wanted to do this. This might be my window.’ And there is space on the political spectrum for people who want to jump into this race,” Perry said.

Hinckley polling from March showed 52% of Utah voters approved of Romney’s performance. Moderate voters overwhelmingly supported him at 69%. He lost ground, however, with voters who identify as “very conservative,” with only 23% of the base applauding his record in Washington.

That lackluster support from very conservative voters is where Perry believes Staggs will focus his attention. The direct conservative appeal was also part of Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson’s announcement in April of an exploratory committee for Romney’s seat. Wilson said he is looking into running because “Washington D.C. needs conservative leadership” and he believes “Utahns deserve a bold, proven and conservative fighter to represent us and our values in our nation’s capital.”

During the state GOP convention in April, Wilson told the crowd that Washington D.C. “could learn from the Beehive State,” because it remains “rooted in conservative values of hard work, sacrifice and personal responsibility.”

He knocked the Biden administration for excessive spending and rapidly rising interest rates while applauding state leaders for cutting taxes. But those in attendance booed the Speaker for saying that Utah’s elections are secure.

Perry said Wilson and Romney have their records to help them gain support, but Wilson needs to appeal to the same base that dislikes Romney — those who identify as very conservative.

“That's the segment of the spectrum that Brad Wilson needs to get,” he said. “So if you take for granted that Sen. Romney owns a good piece of the middle, where do you go to get your votes? You go to the right of him.”

Wilson has not decided if he will run for the Senate seat. He also didn’t respond to KUER’s interview request.

Perry added every candidate that joins the race will need to outpace Romney in name recognition and fundraising. But Romney needs support beyond moderate and independent voters.

It’s still early in the race, though. Perry said potential candidates are in the “posturing” phase based on what Romney — who hasn’t committed to running for reelection — decides to do.

“If he decides to run or decides not to run, that is going to change the field a lot,” Perry said.

When KUER asked where he was in the process, Romney said “a day closer today than yesterday, but I don’t have a date certain when I’ll make up my mind.”

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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