What could Romney’s ‘next generation’ of Utah leaders look like?
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney wants someone from the “next generation” to take over for him in Washington. To that effect, Romney announced he would not be running for reelection in 2024.
He told reporters it was time for him to “get out of the way.”
“Over the last couple of decades, people of my age, the boomers, have done pretty well for ourselves,” he said. “And I think some of the people that are coming along next want to have a say in how we leave the Earth and how they prepare for the future they're going to live in.”
But just who that is in the next generation of Utah leaders is still up for interpretation.
“Utah faces a choice about the kind of Republican representation that the state wants,” Brigham Young University political science professor Chris Karpowitz told KUER. “Will Utah support Donald Trump in the future and will its next senator also be a supporter of Donald Trump or the style of politics that Donald Trump represents? Or will the next senator from Utah harken back to a previous era of Republican politics?”
The former president remains a polarizing figure in Utah where he underperformed compared to other GOP nominees in both 2016 and 2020. And while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential primary bid has recently hit rough waters, several prominent Utah lawmakers were early endorsers of the Trump rival.
Age is another factor. According to Pew Research, the median age of the U.S. Senate is 65.3 years old. Romney is 76 and said he would like whoever succeeds him to serve two, three or more terms in order to build up seniority for the state and enter a position of leadership.
“I do think that the times we're living in really demand the next generation to step up and express their point of view and to make the decisions that will shape American politics over the coming century,” Romney added. “I think both parties would be far better served if they were going to be represented by people other than those of us from the baby boom generation.”
That’s also on the minds of Beehive State political insiders.
“I think that there were probably a couple of things [Romney] meant by the new generation,” said former Utah GOP treasurer Mike Bird. “I think age probably had to do with it as well as I think a different generation of thought within the Republican Party.”
Calling himself a member of the “wise wing” of the party, Romney expressed a belief that his brand of politics — one that resisted nationalistic trends and celebrated bipartisan cooperation — would ultimately “see a resurgence and come back into leadership of the party.”
Bird, who is in his mid-30s, said life experience is an important factor when it comes to Congress, but the GOP should still look for candidates that excite younger voters in particular.
“What I'm hoping is that the next generation can rally behind a candidate that is going to represent our generation and our future,” he said. “If these voters see someone that is living in the world at their age, [experiencing] the same struggles that they have with the housing market, the economy, and they know that the things they're going to fight for are going to affect them as well as their constituents, I think that's where we're going to get a lot more involvement.”
Bird is an advocate for younger Utahs to get involved in the political process, but admits there are few prospects in his age group that could fill the big shoes required to be an effective member of the Senate.
Right now, only one person has officially announced their candidacy to replace Romney: Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs. Utah Speaker of the House Brad Wilson is also exploring a potential run but has not made an announcement yet.
Both are under the age of 60.
The 2024 Senate race is wide open now and the rumor mill and prognosticators are already churning through potential names. One thing is certain, Republicans have won every Senate contest in Utah since 1976. Romney was elected in 2018 by over 30 percentage points.
For his part, Romney does not plan to throw his weight behind any candidate that may enter the race to replace him.
“You make your decision as a voter about what you think about the candidate and their point of view and their vision,” he said. “And you don't care about what some other person said. So I'm not planning on endorsing.”