Utah Republicans to select nominee to replace Mitt Romney in open US Senate seat

Apr 26, 2024, 3:54 PM

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, poses for a photograph at the Deseret News offices in Salt Lake City on T...

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, poses for a photograph at the Deseret News offices in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. (Deseret News, Spenser Heaps)

(Deseret News, Spenser Heaps)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Nearly a dozen Utah Republicans vying to replace Mitt Romney in the U.S. Senate are set to square off Saturday for the party nomination in a race expected to reveal the brand of political conservatism that most appeals to modern voters in the state.

Romney has long been the face of the party’s more moderate wing, but his retirement from the Senate opens a door for Utah’s farther-right faction. Observers are closely watching whether voters select a successor whose politics align more with Romney’s or with Utah’s other U.S. senator, conservative Mike Lee, who supports former President Donald Trump.

The winner at Saturday’s state GOP convention, which tends to favor far-right candidates who appeal to the most zealous party members, may get a bump in the race. Some losing candidates still can qualify for the June 25 primary ballot by gathering signatures, so Republican voters will ultimately decide the party’s pick to succeed Romney.

Brad wilson holds a sign with his name and waves

Brad Wilson holds a press conference to announce his run to represent Utah in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (KSL TV)

“Ultimately, the successful candidate in the primary election phase will be the candidate who shows they best connect with general Utah Republican values, rather than the person who’s able to stake out the furthest right position possible, even if that helps them to some extent with the delegates,” said Damon Cann, head of Utah State University’s political science department.

The crowded race, which includes a congressman, a former state legislative leader and the lawyer son of a former senator, will not only set the tone for the post-Romney era of Utah conservatism, but likely will serve as a litmus test for Trump’s popularity in the Beehive State.

Those most closely aligned with the embattled former president, namely former state House Speaker Brad Wilson, are expected to fare well at the convention. But political scientists, including James Curry of the University of Utah, anticipate a more moderate candidate such as U.S. Rep. John Curtis will prevail in the primary. The 63-year-old Republican congressman, environmentalist and former mayor of Provo began his political career as a county-level Democratic Party official.

Utah Senator Mitt Romney on KSL TV's Sunday Edition with Boyd Matheson. (KSL TV)

Utah Senator Mitt Romney on KSL TV’s Sunday Edition with Boyd Matheson. (KSL TV)

“This is a type of state where I think you actually have a slight advantage being more anti-Trump, if not decisively and vocally so, which is not something you’d find in most states where Republican voters are concerned,” Curry said.

While Trump has made inroads in the state party, he has long been unpopular among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church, who make up about half of the state’s 3.4 million residents.

Curtis has actively tried to distance himself from Trump, and even Romney, promising to forge his own path in the Senate. However, his record of pushing fellow congressional Republicans to combat climate change — in much the same way Romney urged party members to part ways with Trump — has led many to draw parallels between the two.

Even Wilson, 55, who endorsed Trump earlier this year, has made little mention of the former president on the campaign trail. The move represents a departure from many farther-right candidates in other states who have tried to leverage Trump’s political power to win their own races.

Curry expects the party nomination will carry little weight in a state where Republican delegates are often not representative of the party’s broader membership. Romney himself was booed by delegates at a past convention and even lost the nomination in 2018, but he still won the statewide popular vote.

The candidates notably have not sought Romney’s endorsement, which Cann said is unusual in races with a departing incumbent. Several have sought the support of his more conservative counterpart, who is popular among delegates, but Lee has not yet endorsed anyone in the Senate race.

Curtis, Wilson and businessman Jason Walton already have guaranteed their spots on the primary ballot through signature gathering. Other candidates such as Brent Orrin Hatch, son of Utah’s longest serving U.S. senator, the late Orrin Hatch, could still make the primary if they earn at least 40% of delegate votes on Saturday.

Wilson has raised about $2 million from supporters, and he loaned his campaign an additional $2.8 million, according to Federal Election Commission fillings. Curtis has raised about $3 million, which includes money left over from his former congressional bid.

Republican nominees for governor, Congress and other offices also will be selected at Saturday’s convention. Incumbent Gov. Spencer Cox faces some prominent challengers, but Cann and Curry expect the moderate Republican will win the primary even if he isn’t chosen as the party nominee. State Democrats will hold a concurrent convention on Saturday.

KSL 5 TV Live

Politics & Elections

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hea...

Rashard Rose and Jack Forrest, CNN

Romney says if he were president he would have immediately pardoned Trump

Sen. Mitt Romney said that if he were president he would have “immediately pardoned” former President Donald Trump.

2 days ago

Landscape fabric covers the ground at a legal cannabis farm near Brewster, in north-central Washing...

Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press

Justice Department formally moves to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug in historic shift

The Justice Department has formally moved to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug, a historic shift in generations of U.S. drug policy.

2 days ago

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the National Peace Officers M...

Alanna Durkin Richer and Colleen Long

White House blocks release of Biden’s special counsel interview audio, says GOP is being political

The White House has blocked the release of audio from President Joe Biden’s interview with a special counsel about his handling of classified documents.

2 days ago

Fourth District congressional candidate Jake Hunsaker answers questions next to an empty podium dur...

Lindsay Aerts

Utah’s primary debates begin June 10

The Utah Debate Commission will host its series of local and federal primary debates starting June 10 ahead of Utah’s primary election on June 25.

3 days ago

FILE: Signs promoting the vice presidential debate are pictured on the University of Utah campus in...

Lindsay Aerts

Trump and Biden plan to skip October presidential debate in Utah

A planned presidential debate in October at the University of Utah is in serious jeopardy of officially being called off.

3 days ago

FILE: Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks to the media prior to talks with German Chancellor O...

Karel Janicek

Slovakia’s populist prime minister shot multiple times in attempted assassination

Slovakia’s populist prime minister has been shot multiple times and gravely wounded after a political event.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Utah Republicans to select nominee to replace Mitt Romney in open US Senate seat