Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs announced Tuesday he would run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney.

Staggs is the first major candidate to declare his intention to run for the seat, and in an interview with the Deseret News he laid out his reasons for getting in the race.

Romney has not said yet whether he intends to run for a second term, but Staggs said he would run in the Republican primary whether Romney is in the race or not.

In April, Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson said he was forming an exploratory committee to consider a run for the Senate, but he has not formally announced his candidacy yet.

Staggs said he decided to run after personal reflection and after discussing his options with his wife and close friends. He’s been in elected office in Riverton for 10 years, first as a city councilor and then as mayor,

“And throughout that service, I think I have proven myself as a fighter, somebody who is consistently conservative, on all fronts,” he said. “I have consistently been ... on the front lines of what I call the front lines of federal or government overreach.”

Staggs said he is announcing his candidacy now because he needs a “solid year” to reach out to voters across the state

He said he assumes Romney will run again, and that he supported Romney in 2018 and thinks he’s a “really good family man.” But he said he thinks Romney’s ideas are “ruinous for America.”

He criticized Romney’s positions on the budget, immigration and federal overreach, and questioned his vote in support of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“I think he’s fallen well short on all of those points,” Staggs said.

In his campaign launch video, Staggs took on Romney directly, criticizing him for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump and for voting on bipartisan spending bills. 

“I think every time we compromise, it ends up costing us trillions of dollars,” he told the Deseret News. “Some people, I think, go to D.C. to get along and try to fit in. And, really, I’m not looking to go to Washington, D.C., to fit in. I’m wanting to actually make change. … And I think that’s really what Utahns want. They want somebody who will champion bold, conservative action.”

Romney’s office declined to comment on Staggs’ announcement.

In his position as mayor, Staggs has overseen Riverton at a time when the southwest corner of the Salt Lake valley has grown significantly. During his time in office, he said he led the city to leave the Unified Police Department and establish its own department. Staggs also said he focused on economic development in the area.

Staggs criticized the “administrative state” and said regulations are hurting small businesses. 

“I know from my business experience, you can also be too small to succeed. And that’s disastrous,” he said. 

Staggs also said the government needs to rein in spending. 

“I just can’t believe that we’re at $32 trillion in debt. And I think that’s the height of immorality to have really put that level of burden on my kids and on future generations,” he said. “It’s time to be uncompromising with respect to getting our fiscal house in order.” 

He also said he would focus on immigration, and on “the growth of government,” pointing to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of what he sees as government overreach.  

“We saw in 2020 especially, we saw the heavy hand of government. I was one that said no and pushed back on lockdowns, on mandates,” he said. “I pushed back considerably because I don’t believe that’s in the purview of government. And I think I’ve been proven right.”

Staggs said he would try to gain the nomination through the Republican convention, saying he is a “big believer” in the convention system.

If Romney decides not to run, a number of other candidates are likely to enter the race. But it is unclear when he will make that decision.

In a statement to the Deseret News earlier this year, Romney’s chief of staff Liz Johnson said Romney still hasn’t reached a final decision on a 2024 run, and that he would make a “final decision in the coming months.”

“In the meantime, we’re ensuring he’s well prepared to run if he chooses,” she said.  

Romney has expressed confidence in his ability to win the Senate seat if he chooses to run again.