Mitt Romney tells the Wall Street Journal in a new interview that he remains undecided about seeking a second term as Utah's junior senator after spending the last few years as the Republican that MAGA world most loves to hate, and everyone's going to stay in suspense for a while longer. Romney reaffirmed his intention to make up his mind in the fall and added that the verdict could come, in the paper's words, "possibly around October."
As Romney deliberates, another prominent Republican, state House Speaker Brad Wilson, continues to raise money and secure endorsements for his own potential campaign, but Wilson is also keeping the Beehive State guessing as to whether he's actually willing to run against the incumbent. The speaker formed an exploratory committee in April—a move that the Salt Lake Tribune said infuriated Romney's camp—and his spokesperson now says that Wilson is "exploring his own potential race, irrespective of what other potential candidates may or may not do." However, the Journal writes that, according to unnamed sources, Wilson is indeed waiting to see what the senator will do.
Conservative hardliners, though, may not be satisfied if Wilson does end up taking on the 2012 presidential nominee. The speaker told Fox 13 in April that he was someone who could “get a lot of people with very differing opinions together and get them to work together on hard things and solve hard challenges,” which is not what you'd normally expect to hear from a member of Trump’s GOP.
Wilson's team does seem to realize that running as a bipartisan problem solver isn't a winning strategy, though: His campaign rolled out endorsements earlier this month from fellow legislators that featured testimonials calling him a "conservative champion" and someone who worked to "advance pro-life legislation." (Altogether, three-quarters of House Republicans and two-thirds of the Senate caucus backed him.) However, while Wilson has indeed helped pass anti-abortion legislation, the Associated Press also noted that he helped stop the legislature from formally rebuking none other than Romney in 2020 for his vote to convict Trump during his first impeachment trial.
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs offered Romney haters a more ideologically pure option in May when he kicked off his challenge by proclaiming that "the only thing I've seen him fight for are the establishment, wokeness, open borders, impeaching President Trump, and putting us even deeper into debt." Staggs, though, turned in a weak opening fundraising quarter by bringing in just $170,000 through June and self-funding another $50,000; Wilson, by contrast, raised $1 million and threw down another $1.2 million of his own money. (Romney himself only raised $350,000 from donors while bringing in another $710,000 by renting out his fundraising list.)
Two other prominent hardliners have publicly or privately talked about taking on Romney, but neither appears excited about the idea. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz told ABC News last week that, while he hasn't ruled out running for Romney's Senate seat, he's more interested in a bid for governor at some point. When the Deseret News inquired if he was thinking about waging a GOP primary battle this cycle against Gov. Spencer Cox, who like Romney wants the GOP to move on from Trump, Chaffetz replied, "Not making any decisions yet on anything. Some day, some time I am interested in running for governor."
Attorney General Sean Reyes, meanwhile, once looked like an all but certain Romney foe; Politico even reported in March of 2022 that Reyes was "preparing" a bid and would "make a final decision and likely announce his intentions" two months hence. Reyes, however, still has yet to say anything about his plans well over a year later, and he wouldn't offer a comment when ABC contacted him earlier this month.
But Romney himself may be his own biggest obstacle towards renomination, as a July survey from Noble Predictive Insights gave him an upside-down 43-54 favorable rating with Utah Republicans. (NPI, which sometimes works for conservative groups, sampled 301 Republicans, which is one more than the minimum that Daily Kos Elections requires before we'll write up a survey and analyze it; the firm did not mention a client.) The poll did show Romney beating Reyes 30-13 in a hypothetical seven-way matchup as Wilson grabbed at 5%, but that's still a weak position for any incumbent to find themselves in.
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American political parties might often seem stuck in their ways, but they can and in fact do change positions often. Joining us on this week's episode of "The Downballot" is political scientist David Karol, who tells us how and why both the Democratic and Republican parties have adjusted their views on a wide range of issues over the years. Karol offers three different models for how these transformations happen—and explains why voters often stick with their parties even after these shifts. He concludes by offering tips to activists seeking to push their parties when they're not changing fast enough.