Utah Gov. Spencer Cox gave his most explicit endorsement yet of state House Speaker Brad Wilson’s U.S. Senate bid to replace Sen. Mitt Romney during a monthly press conference on Thursday.

When asked whether he planned on endorsing Wilson’s campaign, Cox said, “I do,” and confirmed he had hosted a fundraiser for the candidate.

Cox said it was “very proper” and commonplace for a governor to back a candidate in a statewide race and said his endorsement is based on many years observing Wilson at work.

“I know Brad as well as just about anybody in this state. And that’s why I feel so confident, because I have been able to work with him,” Cox said. “I believe he’s one of the best speakers we’ve ever had in this state — the things he’s been able to accomplish. He has the most difficult job, politically speaking, in the state of Utah.”

Wilson, who has represented Kaysville since 2012, and has served as speaker since 2018, announced he was considering a U.S. Senate bid in April. But he didn’t make his campaign official until last month after news broke that Romney would not be serving another term.

Wilson has billed himself as a “pragmatic” conservative and a “conservative fighter,” with a track record of uniting diverse coalitions of lawmakers to score conservative wins, including cutting state taxes and investing in water conservation.

It’s this background that makes Wilson a good choice for the current contentious moment on Capitol Hill, according to Cox.

“As you can see in Washington, D.C., right now, when it comes to finding consensus and leading a large group of independently elected people who have very strong ideas and are passionate, and help navigate that process, I’ve never seen anybody do it as well as Brad Wilson, and I think that’s the kind of leadership that we need in Washington, D.C.,” Cox said.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, shakes hands with Gov. Spencer Cox as the legislative session concludes at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 3, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

In order to focus on his campaign, Wilson will resign from the Utah Legislature, effective Nov. 15. Cox joked he was “really mad” that Wilson was leaving the Utah Capitol but said Wilson will be “fantastic” in the U.S. Senate.

This isn’t the first time Cox has expressed his support for Wilson’s national ambitions. At September’s PBS Utah news conference, Cox made what he called a “tentative” endorsement of Wilson, saying it was no secret that he is “very” close to Wilson and that he would make an “incredible” senator.

However, the two haven’t always agreed. They stood on opposite sides of a debate surrounding state taxes a few years ago. But, Cox says, the way he and Wilson dealt with their disagreements actually highlights the Senate candidate’s strengths.

“I can speak to what I know. And what I know is that Speaker Wilson is not just a great human being but an incredible public servant. And if we had a hundred Brad Wilsons in the Senate and 435 in the House, our country would be in a much better place,” Cox said.

Wilson joins a growing cast of U.S. Senate hopefuls, which includes Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs and the mayor of Roosevelt, Rod Bird Jr. But he has overshadowed his competitors with record-breaking fundraising hauls and dozens of endorsements from state lawmakers.

As Wilson’s campaign builds momentum, he is now facing a lawsuit claiming he violated a business agreement. Wilson’s attorney has called the lawsuit “baseless.”