Utah state House Speaker Brad Wilson revealed Thursday that he’d formed an exploratory committee for a potential primary bid against Sen. Mitt Romney, who has yet to announce if he’ll be seeking a second term after spending the first as Donald Trump’s favorite GOP chew toy. Wilson’s hardly the only big name who could run, though, as Rep. Chris Stewart’s team didn’t shoot down a report about his own interest.
Wilson did not commit to anything either, telling Fox 13, “I'm going to make a decision over the course of the next few months as I go around the state and listen to what people are looking for.” The speaker, who did not attack the incumbent, also presented himself as someone who could “get a lot of people with very differing opinions together,” which is not what we’d expect to hear from a member of Trump’s GOP. But Romney’s side, reports the Salt Lake Tribune, was not happy at all when they heard Wilson would be filling out paperwork for a potential challenge.
The Deseret News reports Stewart, who has been an ally of GOP extremists, is thinking about it, and the only comment his spokesman offered was that he had “no comment on the race at this time.” Local and national observers also continue to talk up Attorney General Sean Reyes as a possible hardline foe for Romney. The most recent thing we heard from his camp was in November when an advisor said the attorney general was “certainly set up to run, but it does not mean he's considering it.”
The Tribune additionally relays that two more names are “said to be considering” a campaign: state Sen. Mike Kennedy, who lost to Romney in 2018, and former Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Fox 13 also name-drops real estate executive Thomas Wright, who took 8% in the 2020 nomination contest for governor, and former state Rep. Becky Edwards, who lost host the 2022 Senate primary to incumbent Mike Lee 62-30.
Romney was actually Trump’s endorsed candidate when he first went up against then-state Rep. Kennedy, who is not related to the Kennedy who did beat Romney in a Senate race, the late Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy. Mike Kennedy narrowly won the party convention, an event that’s long been dominated by activists who are far more ideologically extreme than their party's electorate at large, but Romney fended him off 71-29 in the primary two months later. Kennedy revived his career in late 2020 when party delegates picked him to fill a vacant state Senate seat, and he held it two years later without opposition.
Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz also expressed interest in February, though the Fox talking head has since then also talked about a possible nomination battle against Gov. Spencer Cox. But the campaign manager for Chaffetz’s successor, Rep. John Curtis, played down speculation the congressman could challenge Romney on Thursday, declaring, “He’d like to stay where he can get the most done for Utah. He doesn’t think it makes sense to start all over by running for U.S. Senate.”
It's never too early to start talking about the House! Joining us on this week's edition of The Downballot is Inside Elections' Jacob Rubashkin, who offers his thoughts on the overall playing field and a wide range of key contests. Jacob explains why Lauren Boebert might have an easier time of it in her likely rematch, how some candidates have a "special sauce" that allows them to keep winning difficult districts, and why he thinks Mary Peltola is favored for re-election despite Alaska's persistent red lean.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also marvel at how the Tennessee GOP scored a remarkable own-goal in booting state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who've now already returned to the chamber with dramatically enhanced profiles; dissect the very obvious ploy by Montana Republicans to tilt the 2024 Senate election their way by changing the primary rules for just that one race; and break down a new Daily Kos Elections analysis of the 23 states that could add protections for abortion rights to their constitutions.