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Mitt’s out: Romney won’t seek Senate reelection in 2024

FILE - Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and other senators arrive at the chamber for votes, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Romney will not run for reelection in 2024. The former presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor announced his intentions in a video statement Wednesday.
J. Scott Applewhite
FILE - Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and other senators arrive at the chamber for votes, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Romney will not run for reelection in 2024. The former presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor announced his intentions in a video statement Wednesday.

It was the question Utah political watchers have been asking since the new year. Will Mitt Romney run for reelection in 2024?

We finally have his answer. He’s not.

Romney, a former presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts, made the announcement in a video statement. The 76-year-old said the country is ready for new leadership.

“Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders," he said in his announcement. "They’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in."

“At age 76, with the prospect of [being] in my mid-80s by the time I would end my second term, it was just time to get the younger people and the new generation involved,” he told reporters later Wednesday afternoon. “I just think that we need to get someone new in there who can make a difference for our state and build the seniority that will ultimately put them in a position of leadership, either of a committee or the entire group.”

Gov. Spencer Cox said the senator served Utah “with distinction at the highest levels of government and we’re incredibly grateful for his commitment to this country.” Other Utah Republican political voices, like Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Blake Moore, Chris Stewart and John Curtis echoed the appreciation for Romney’s career in public service.

With Romney officially not running, the race for the GOP nomination could likely be between Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs and Utah Speaker of the House Brad Wilson — though there are plenty of names in the rumor mill. While he has not officially declared his candidacy, Wilson has had an exploratory committee in place since April and has been raising money for a possible Senate bid.

“I thank Sen. Romney for his many years of service and appreciate his contributions to our state,” Wilson said in a statement. “We are at a crossroads, and it’s never been more important to elect a strong conservative fighter to the U.S. Senate.”

Wilson said he’s encouraged by the fundraising and endorsements he’s received so far and told supporters to “stay tuned” for more.

Staggs was the first candidate to officially challenge Romney when he announced his candidacy in May.

“Irrespective of who gets in the race, we're not changing our message and our focus and the opportunity, the option that we're giving Utahns,” Staggs said. “And as I've traveled the state, that's what they want. They want another [Sen.] Mike Lee. They want somebody who's going to stand up and boldly stand for conservative values.”

With an open Senate contest in 2024, that’s the important question the Utah GOP faces: What type of Republican should fill Romney’s shoes?

The recent GOP special primary election to fill Rep. Chris Stewart’s seat in the state’s 2nd Congressional District could offer a glimpse into where GOP voters are leaning right now. Celeste Maloy, the Republican Party and Stewart’s consensus pick, enjoyed immense rural support over challenger Becky Edwards, who was strong with urban voters. Following her primary victory, Maloy said “vicious campaigning” does not work.

“[Voters are] tired of people throwing sound bytes and red meat at them,” she said. “They're hungry for substance. They want to know if someone cares about the issues they care about and if someone's going to show up in their counties, if someone's going to answer the phone if they call.”

But the lasting impacts of former President Donald Trump’s aggressive brand of politics are still very much alive in Utah. And for his part, Trump wasn’t complimentary on his own social platform, Truth Social, calling it great news for Utah and saying that Romney “did not serve with distinction.”

Chris Karpowitz, a professor of political science at Brigham Young University, thinks Utah is “unlikely to have a successor who is quite as prominent and who is quite as willing to speak out, certainly against Donald Trump. And so I think it means that Utah faces a choice about the kind of Republican representation that the state wants.”

“That will be the heart of the next campaign for Senate here in the state," he said.

Romney himself seems to sense that coming dynamic.

“I say that I represent the small wing of the Republican Party, [what] I call the ‘wise wing’ of the Republican Party,” he said. “We've become more of a populist demagogue-ish party in the last few years and I hope to see that change.”

For Romney, who ultimately replaces him will be a consequential choice for Utah voters come 2024.

“They're going to need to listen carefully and decide who they want to represent them, not just for six years, but hopefully for 12 to 18 years,” he said. “I hope it's a young person and a person with a vision to actually do something that will help the country and help Utah. So keep our eyes open and vote.”

During his tenure as Utah’s junior senator, Romney wasn’t afraid to rebuke his own party. That was made clear in his two votes to convict Trump in the 2020 and 2021 impeachment trials — even taking a hit at home because of it and finding himself on opposite sides from Sen. Lee on the issue. Despite that blip, the Brigham Young University graduate and one of the most visible members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (thanks to his 2012 presidential campaign), has been popular in Utah.

Especially after he burnished his reputation by turning around the bribery scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics, making it a global showcase for Salt Lake City. During the 20th anniversary of the Salt Lake games, Romney told KUER that, in his view, “the Olympics of 2002 and the Paralympics of the same year were some of the best years in Utah history.”

The wealthy former private equity executive served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. In 2006, Romney signed a health care law in Massachusetts that had some of the same core features as the 2010 federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama, who would go on to defeat Romney in the 2012 White House election.

Romney is the sixth incumbent senator to announce plans to retire after the end of the term in 2025, joining Republican Mike Braun of Indiana and Democrats Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

KUER’s Jim Hill, Pamela McCall and the Associated Press contributed to this report

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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