Finally, the weather is warming and politics are heating up as well. A recent announcement and polling results are topics discussed by local politicos. So we enter the fray.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson announced last week the formation of a committee to explore running for the U.S. Senate in 2024. Mitt Romney also filed a statement of organization with the FEC, but has not firmly said he’s running. What are politicos saying about Wilson’s chances against Romney or in an open field?

Pignanelli: “I would rather die than be in the United States Senate. I would be bored to death.” — Chris Christie 

Speaker Wilson hopes to defy Utah political history because no state lawmaker was ever elected to the U.S. Senate. (Congressman and former state Sen. George Sutherland was “chosen” by the Utah Legislature in 1905, prior to the 17th Amendment.) Our senators ascended from the business/legal community or held local government offices.

Wilson could break this tradition. His record, combined with strategic leveraging of the legislative caucus, could secure the top spot in a state convention. Wilson’s leadership on popular issues (i.e. Great Salt Lake, budget reform, etc.) are attractive. Wilson and Romney share many characteristics including success in business, willingness to tackle tough issues as elected leaders, and a local heritage. Both are well respected in religious, business and cultural arenas.

But if Romney decides for reelection, he will be tough to dislodge in the true battleground — the primary. Incumbent Romney will receive extraordinary external support, especially at the urging of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. If Romney chooses retirement, Wilson will face even more opponents.

History does not create barriers but rather constructs guidelines on how success is possible and is a rich textbook for all candidates in this upcoming election.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson forms committee to explore run for Romney’s Senate seat
New poll shows Mitt Romney has the approval of a majority of Utah voters, but could still be vulnerable in a Republican primary

Webb: Wilson is a very solid candidate who will be tough competition for Romney in the Republican primary. Wilson can attract conservative voters while being reasonably acceptable to moderates.

Romney’s biggest problem with conservative Republicans is his bitter and vocal loathing of Donald Trump and especially his two votes to boot Trump from office in the impeachment process. What made Romney’s votes unforgivable for some conservatives wasn’t just that he disliked Trump. It was that Romney firmly aligned himself with Nancy Pelosi and liberal Democrats on a defining issue. Almost all other Republicans, including many who didn’t like Trump, did not provide aid and comfort to Democrats in the highly partisan impeachment process. Politically, it wasn’t wise behavior by Romney.  

On the other hand, Romney has voted conservatively on most issues, and has strongly criticized the Biden administration over excessive spending, regulation and national security issues. He will have ample funds for re-election.

If Romney is defeated, Utah will lose an influential voice in the Senate. As a former GOP presidential nominee and leading Trump critic, Romney achieved instant Senate prominence, far more than most freshmen senators. He has also maintained the ability to work with Democrats on important legislation, making him effective in getting things done. He is persuasive on foreign affairs, including Russia and China.

Trump will be a wild card for all the candidates in the Senate race. Trump will, no doubt, vocally attack Romney. He might swoop in and endorse one of Romney’s challengers in the GOP primary. All candidates will be pressured to disclose whether they support Trump for president. We’ll see how that plays out.

Where Mitt Romney sees the country going if Donald Trump is elected again
Are you a Trump Republican or a Romney Republican? Poll reveals Utahns’ preference

A recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics presidential preference poll stated 31% of Utah Republican voters supported Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and 23% were for former President Donald Trump. However, another survey (0H Predictive) suggested 41% of Utah Republicans supported Trump and 23% were for DeSantis. Why the confusion and how will this impact the U.S. Senate race?

Pignanelli: Different results are attributed to methodologies used. But these surveys — along with others — underscore conventional wisdom that a solid unshakable faction of voters support Trump, and others are equally opposed. These dynamics will play out in the March 2024 precinct caucuses to elect delegates. Candidates in all races, but especially those at the federal level, will be impacted by this tug-of-war. Between now and then, Utahns will witness various stratagems from politicians hoping to benefit, or defend against, the emotional environment of the presidential battle occurring in these neighborhood gatherings.

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Webb: Personally, I hope the Deseret News poll is correct. It’s time to move past Trump and allow a new generation of leaders to take over. Trump can’t put together the coalition needed to win the general election. I don’t want another four years of Joe Biden.

What are the predictions regarding Romney running, and are there other possible contenders in the Senate race?

Pignanelli & Webb: We are not sure anyone has a clear read on Utah’s junior senator, including himself. But he enjoys the luxury of waiting. In addition to Wilson, other names floating about are Congressmen Chris Stewart and John Curtis (although Curtis is expressing hesitation), Attorney General Sean Reyes, businessman Thomas Wright, former Congresswoman Mia Love, former Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Robert O’Brien, former national security adviser to Trump.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semi-retired small farmer and political consultant. Email: Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email:

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