2024 is still a far way off, but political insiders are already speculating about whether Sen. Mitt Romney will seek re-election.
U.S. Senate seats are highly coveted and an open seat doesn’t come up very often. Thus, a lot of young Utah politicians would love the chance to run for the Senate if Romney declined to run.
But I think it’s pretty clear Romney will seek re-election. I believe Romney is enjoying serving in the Senate – it’s a great job, after all, almost like royalty – and only two things could prevent him from running. The first is poor health and the second is if it’s obvious he can’t win the GOP nomination.
Romney is 74 now and will be 77 when he would run in 2024. He keeps a busy schedule, works hard, and appears to be in good health. And 77 is not particularly old by U.S. Senate standards. There are 17 senators as old or older than Romney. If Pres. Joe Biden seeks re-election in the same year he will be in his 80s.
As for electability, Romney’s political health isn’t as good as his physical health. His approval ratings are weak, especially among Republican voters whose support he needs to win the GOP nomination. Still, it’s very difficult to defeat an incumbent senator. Romney will have unlimited funding, a lot of support from the Utah business community and establishment leaders, and he will put together an effective campaign.
Romney can easily win a general election against any Democrat or independent. The key for him will be the GOP nomination, and that could be difficult. Former Pres. Donald Trump won Utah with 58% of the vote in 2020, but Romney voted twice to boot him out of office via the impeachment process. Romney was an outlier in his own party as Trump’s chief critic among Republicans senators. He was much more aligned with Democrats on his attitudes and actions toward Trump.
Many Republicans didn’t (and don’t) like Trump. But most of them kept quiet about it. They weren’t so much afraid of Trump as they were alienating Trump voters, who dominate the Republican Party. But Romney didn’t ignore Trump. He went out of his way to antagonize the president, and he did alienate a lot of GOP voters.
So, the question is whether Utah Republicans will forgive Romney and nominate him in 2024. Romney will surely be challenged from the right. I don’t believe a far-right, Trump-loving fringe candidate could take the nomination away from Romney. But a smart, thoughtful, articulate, non-scary candidate with solid conservative credentials could give Romney a tough fight.
Utah Republicans have already shown they’re willing to vote against political royalty. After all, they chose young Spencer Cox for governor over the more glamorous, experienced and polished Jon Huntsman.
But Romney is making a big effort to bolster his support among Republicans. He could attempt to replicate the effort of Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012 when Hatch was in trouble, viewed as a “creature of Washington” who was out-of-touch with Utah. Hatch had watched the defeat of Sen. Bob Bennett two years earlier in convention. So Hatch worked incredibly hard and spent over $5 million pre-convention to rebuild the Republican Party and take it away from the Tea Party.
It’s obvious to me that Romney is mounting a big effort to improve his popularity and show he’s an effective senator, working hard for Utah’s interests. He’s churning out a lot of press releases, op-eds and making TV appearances. He’s been highly critical of the Biden administration on a number of issues and has taken tough stances on China and Russia.
Conservatives have criticized Romney for supporting the bipartisan infrastructure legislation – one of Biden’s main achievements. Romney helped negotiate the bill and has been working extremely hard to show the legislation is very helpful for Utah.
On Monday, for example, I received a press release from Romney’s office touting money in the bill that will enable state and federal environmental officials to clean up a polluted Superfund site in Stockton, Utah.
The press release includes statements from the Utah DEQ director, the Stockton town mayor, and members of the Tooele County Council — all profusely thanking Romney for his leadership on the bill and ensuring the project was funded.
It takes some effort to gather quotes from local leaders praising a politician. Expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing from the Romney team as his re-election approaches.