After announcing his resignation from the Utah Legislature last week, outgoing Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

“We have an opportunity to send a conservative fighter to the U.S. Senate, armed with Utah’s conservative values, who will fight for change,” Wilson said, while his family and friends gathered behind him on stage. “Well, I am that conservative fighter and that’s why today I am announcing my candidacy to be the next U.S. senator from Utah.”

He is running for the seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney, who recently announced he will not seek a second term, saying he was leaving the door open for the “next generation” of leaders.

Several state and municipal Republican leaders, like Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, Utah state Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, House Majority Assistant Whip Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, and former Utah state Rep. Greg Hughes spoke prior to Wilson’s remarks.

Lisonbee called him a “thoughtful leader” with a steady hand, and Hughes said Wilson was good at championing tough and important issues.

Wilson said his campaign is focused on addressing rising costs and inflation, the decline of American cities like San Francisco and Chicago, and the crisis at the southern border. He said he would work to rein in spending and make the country energy independent — “And you can count on me to fight for all of it,” he added.

“I am going to wage a spirited campaign,” Wilson said, promising to fight with respect, integrity and hard work in the hopes of putting the country “back on track” — and the crowd erupted in loud cheers. Those cheers quickly turned into “We want Brad” chants.

Locals Dan Lunt and his wife arrived at the event early and stood in the corner, holding a “Brad Wilson” poster and a form to volunteer for Wilson’s campaign that they grabbed on their way in.

“We’re interested in getting to know a little more about Brad and to see a good conservative person take over for Mitt Romney,” said Dan Lunt, adding that he wasn’t pleased with Romney’s performance and hopped Wilson would bring “a more conservative and more constitutional type of voice.”

Wilson’s conservative record as speaker of the House was a selling point, Lunt said.

“I want to see sensible policies, I want to see reduced taxation, I want to see someone get this inflationary period under control,” he said.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson takes the stage as he announces his candidacy for U.S. Senate at a kickoff party in Draper on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Professor Damon Cann, the head of the political science department at Utah State University, told The Associated Press that Wilson “would govern somewhat more conservatively.”

“I think he would be toward the political center from where Mike Lee’s at but I think he would be more conservative than Mitt Romney has been,” Cann said.

Prior to the announcement, Wilson told Fox News that a few factors played a role in his decision to run, and the “overwhelming support” from elected officials and grassroots organizations was one of them.

“People feel like Utah is on the right path, and I feel like I’ve got ... a tremendous amount to offer in terms of being able to go back to Washington, D.C., as a conservative, as a conservative fighter and represent Utah’s values back in the U.S. Senate,” he said.

Wilson had hinted at a “special announcement” following the announcement of his resignation from the legislature on Sept. 18, which will take effect on Nov. 15. “It’s time for a conservative fighter in the U.S. Senate,” he said in a social media post.

This news comes months after Wilson, a homebuilder and developer, launched an exploratory committee for a 2024 run in April. He has $2.2 million in cash, $1.5 million of which is from his own pocket, according to a recent Federal Election Commission quarterly filing.

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During his time as a state representative, Wilson led efforts to restore the Great Salt Lake and relocate the Utah State Prison, which ignited some controversy and cost over $1 billion, as Deseret News previously reported.

Wilson supported the passage of the Tax Revisions bill, which cut state taxes by $850 million. He has also supported expanded funding for education and housing.

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Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson greets some of his supporters after he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate at a kickoff party in Draper on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In 2019, at the beginning of his term as speaker, Wilson described himself as a “policy wonk” who has the passion to do “hard things” while working with others to move the needle, in an interview with the Deseret News.

State Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, was at Wilson’s event. He jokingly told Deseret News that he was in attendance because “I’m his senator and he’s my representative.”

Stevenson said Wilson, whom he has been friends with for over 13 years, “would be absolutely incredible for us in Washington, D.C.”

“He’s smart. He has charisma. He doesn’t make people mad at him. He talks through tough situations,” Stevenson said. “He’s just an incredible politician.”

Meanwhile, Tamara Tran, the mayor of Kaysville, said in a social media post after Wilson’s resignation that he has the ability to help people find common ground. This may be why more than 60 lawmakers endorsed him before he formally announced his run.

Apart from Wilson, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs and Roosevelt Mayor Rod Bird Jr., have also said they will run for Romney’s Senate seat.

The list of potential candidates continues to grow. It now includes former Utah Rep. Jason ChaffetzTim Ballard, founder and former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad who is facing controversy, and Utah Rep. John Curtis.

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In a phone call with the Deseret News Wednesday, Curtis said: “I would not be honest if I said I wasn’t interested in an opportunity to serve in the U.S. Senate and that I wasn’t taking this very seriously and looking at the possibility, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Jeni Wilson, wife of Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, applauds with other supporters as he announces his candidacy for U.S. Senate at a kickoff party in Draper on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Correction: Brad Wilson is the outgoing Utah House speaker. He will remain in that position until Nov. 15. A previous version of this story indicated otherwise.