Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson announced he’s forming an exploratory committee for a 2024 run for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney.

Romney, a Republican, has not announced yet if he intends to run again, but just this week he filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission called a statement of candidacy that allows him to raise and spend money for the 2024 race. 

Wilson, R-Kaysville, made the announcement on Thursday afternoon. 

In an interview with the Deseret News before the announcement, at his office in Farmington, Wilson characterized himself as a “pragmatic” conservative, focused on getting things done, and pointed to his work in Utah, including his work the past few legislative sessions on cutting state taxes. 

He said he is running because he thinks he can make positive changes in the nation’s capital, and because he’s frustrated with “out of control spending that’s hurting Utah families.” 

“I was born here, I was raised here … and I raised my family here … and as an elected official, and as Speaker of the House, I’ve really loved the opportunity that we’ve had to keep government small and out of people’s lives, it’s part of why Utah is so special,” he said. “I really believe that what Washington needs is to be a lot more like Utah. We’ve got this amazing opportunity to send Utah values back to D.C., and to have a conservative fighter back there, doing things back there the way we do them here in the Beehive State.” 

Wilson would not say whether or not he’s spoken to Romney about his run, and whether he will base his decision on whether Romney runs again. Instead, he said, he was focused on talking to voters.  

“I’ve been in elected office for a while. And one thing that I know is these offices don’t belong to any of us individually, they belong to the people that elect us,” he said. “And so my decision is going to be based on what I hear from people, what I believe is in the best interest of the state of Utah, and what is, quite frankly, in the best interest of my family.”

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, talks to reporters at his business office in Farmington on April 13, 2023.
Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, talks to reporters at his business office in Farmington on Thursday, April 13, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Wilson did not level any criticism at Romney, who has been criticized by some in Utah’s Republican Party as not conservative enough for Utah. Wilson said he would wait to talk about records until he knew who was in the race. 

“We’ll have those conversations down the road,” he said. 

On the question of where he fits in Washington, D.C., and which Republican politicians he admires there, Wilson said he’d need to “ponder that a little,” and instead pivoted to speaking about the need to bring “newness” to the Capitol. 

“I’m not necessarily being disrespectful to anyone that’s back there,” he said. “But I think that, Utah, we do things here so differently than how it’s done there that I’d probably want to take my own mold back there and not mold myself after anyone.”

In response to a question about how he’d manage a much more partisan and rancorous Washington, Wilson said he believes his time as speaker has prepared him to work across the political aisle, and said even though Utah’s statehouse is controlled entirely by the Republican Party, he still said it was difficult at times to achieve consensus. 

“There’s an assumption that in Utah, because we have a majority here that we don’t work with members from the other party,” he said. “And if you actually look back at some of the hardest things we’ve done here … that had the potential to be very controversial and divisive, we were able to bring consensus … and that comes from doing things a little bit differently here than around the country. And that’s a skill set that I think that I have, and I think a lot of Utah leaders actually have.” 

In terms of what Utah leaders have, he said he thinks it involves patience and listening, while also being “exceptionally clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, and what your values and criteria are.” 

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, talks to reporters at his business office in Farmington on Thursday, April 13, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Wilson on national issues

Wilson also weighed in on some of the big issues of the day, including Ukraine and abortion. 

On abortion, Wilson said it was an issue that “entirely and completely belongs at the state level.” 

On religious liberty, Wilson said Utah has been a “role model” on the issue, pointing to legislation passed in 2015 that extended protections to the LGBTQ community without jeopardizing religious organizations’ ability to operate according to their beliefs. He said given his experience he thinks he can be “very helpful” at the federal level on the issue. “It’s something obviously we care about very much in the state and in the world, and will always care about.” 

When it comes to Ukraine, Wilson said he thinks the U.S. needs a “more clear objective” and that we cannot be the only country that’s doing the “heavy lifting there.”

“Europe has got to do as much or more than the United States,” he said. 

When asked about debt and entitlement reform, Wilson said early on in his legislative career he focused on becoming an expert in the state budget. 

“There is no strategy,” he said. “We can talk about entitlement reform, we can talk about discretionary spending, but we actually need to get back to the basics first, and actually talk about even just doing some basic budgeting.”

Wilson also said he would push back at the increasing use of executive authority to get things done in Washington.

“It is inexcusable, how Congress has ceded their authority to the executive branch. And, and that is why conservatives are frustrated, and they should be,” he said. 

Romney files FEC paperwork

Even though Wilson has announced he’s eyeing a run, attention is still focused on Romney and whether he will decide to run again. 

Is Romney signaling a run? FEC filing may offer clue

In a statement provided Wednesday to the Deseret News in the wake of Romney’s FEC filing, Romney’s chief of staff Liz Johnson said he still hasn’t reached a final decision on a 2024 run. 

“No new decision or announcement to share, and as the senator has said, he will make a final decision in the coming months,” she said. “In the meantime, we’re ensuring he’s well prepared to run if he chooses.” 

At the state Capitol in February, Romney said he is focused on his work in the Senate and will make a decision in the spring or summer. 

“I’m confident that I would win if I decide to run,” he said at the time. “I’ll have the resources, and I believe the people of Utah would be with me.” 

Other candidates expected to jump in the race

Wilson is just the first of many potential candidates who are expected to jump in the race, especially if Romney decides not to run. 

Sources say Rep. Chris Stewart, who represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, and Rep. John Curtis, who represents Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, have thought about running, as has former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who recently said he’s moving his permanent residence to Utah. 

But Curtis’ campaign spokesman said Thursday he was focused on serving in the House.

“Congressman Curtis has worked hard to become one of the most effective lawmakers in the U.S. House, where he is widely respected,” said Adrielle Herring, Curtis’ campaign manager. “Since he doesn’t plan to be in Congress forever, he wants to make his time count. 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.”

When asked for comment about Romney’s FEC filing, Stewart’s spokesperson said he had “no comment on the race at this time.” 

Joshua Lee contributed to this article.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Wilson was the first to announce an exploration to run for Mitt Romney’s Senate seat. He is not the first to announce those plans.