Republicans in Washington say they’re going to stay out of the race to replace Sen. Mitt Romney — for now — but they still have predictions on what’s coming next for the solidly red seat.
“I think the people of Utah will elect someone who represents mainstream Republican values. And I don’t think you’re going to see a MAGA Republican coming into the Senate,” said Romney, who added that he doesn’t plan to endorse in the primary.
“I really don’t think we’re gonna get someone off the wall,” he added.
The intrigue: As one of the few GOP senators who voted to convict former President Donald Trump in impeachment trials, and the only one who did so twice, Romney regularly drew fire from the MAGA-aligned right. His antics and reputation became a divisive topic for his Republican constituents, and he’d already drawn a GOP challenger before he’d decided not to run. Now that he’s out, the wide-open race will test the allegiances of Republicans in Utah.
The main question, now, is whether the National Republican Senatorial Committee will get involved in the primary. Romney was already facing a challenge from conservative Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who announced in May, and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson has long been considered a potential successor.
The NRSC chair didn’t give any hints in a statement Wednesday: “I join my Republican colleagues in expressing gratitude to Senator Romney for his years of service to our country and the state of Utah,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said. “We are going to nominate a candidate who will keep Utah red in 2024.”
However, one national Republican strategist said it’s “unlikely the NRSC gets involved in Utah,” adding that “Daines has made clear his focus is on winning a Republican majority.” Daines has intervened in some primaries, but typically in states that are more competitive.
Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) also told POLITICO, “I’m very confident that Republicans will hold the seat and I’ll support the Republican nominee. I campaigned last time in Utah with Sen. Lee and I’ll be ready to campaign with our Republican nominee in Utah this year.”
A look at the candidates: Staggs has openly criticized Romney for the senator’s penchants for both bipartisan deals and antagonizing Trump. The Republican mayor said in an interview shortly after Romney’s announcement that “those that are jumping in really had reservations and were being deferential to Sen. Romney. Whereas we just took him on. We took him on no matter what.”
Wilson, a conservative who established an exploratory committee for the seat earlier this year, released a statement Wednesday telling onlookers to “stay tuned.”
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes had also considered running for the seat, including in a potential primary challenge to Romney. But in a statement Wednesday, Reyes said he’s forgoing a run for the Senate, opting to run for reelection for his current role instead.
“That opens up an opportunity for a dear friend of mine who is a great conservative, patriot and warrior to run and serve as the next Senator from Utah. This person will be making an announcement in the days to come,” Reyes added.