Pignanelli & Webb: Sen. Mitt Romney was masterful in holding his reelection cards close to the vest. His decision, announced Wednesday, to retire after his current term wasn’t a big surprise, but it wasn’t expected this soon. Romney is giving others plenty of time to ramp up campaigns to replace him.

Romney released his decision on the platform X (formerly known as Twitter) in a short but substantive video. He reminded viewers of accomplishments in the Senate but also expressed concerns on many issues. He was not shy in condemning former president Donald Trump and current president Joe Biden.

In an obvious reference to current concerns about the ages of Biden, Trump and other aging politicians, Romney noted that he would be in his 80s at the end of the next term. He said it’s time for a new generation of leaders to be given the opportunity to solve the nation’s problems that they will have to live with.

That is a refreshing and spot-on sentiment by a wise and successful political leader who could have easily tried to hang on to power into his elderly years. 

Regardless of the reasons for his retirement, Romney now opens a door to a floodgate of candidates to replace him.

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Of course, House Speaker Brad Wilson will announce his retirement from the Legislature and formal entry into the race. Wilson has already raised more than $2 million, which gives him a substantial head start. He has groomed support in the business and political communities, from both Romney supporters and detractors.

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs will continue his energized efforts to capture delegates in the march toward the nomination.

Attorney General Sean Reyes did well in a recent poll, but he has removed his name from consideration.

Congressmen John Curtis and Blake Moore will be on all the short lists. Their popularity in Utah compels serious consideration.

Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson will also be mentioned by the “great mentioners.” (Gov. Spencer Cox will be whispered on the lips of some, but he will not run. He’s having too much fun in the governor’s mansion.)

But many others can be included in the list of potential candidates. For example, Kirk Jowers, prominent attorney and former director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, is a possibility. Sources say he is considering a run.

Former congressman Jason Chaffetz, recognized conservative media star, remains popular with delegates and conservative party faithful. Former State Rep. Becky Edwards remains beloved by moderate Republicans and retains good will after her run in the special congressional election. Former state party chair and gubernatorial candidate Thomas Wright has a place on the list, as does former House Speaker Greg Hughes. Corey Norman, chief of staff to congressman Curtis, is a respected possibility.

Additional Republican possibilities receiving encouragement from friends include businessman Brad Bonham, State Sen. Dan McCay, Salt Lake Chamber President Derek Miller, Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Jason Perry, former GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen, Salt Lake County councilwoman Amy Winder Newton, State senator and former U.S. Senate candidate Mike Kennedy, former representative and congressional candidate Kim ColemanHenry Eyring, grandson of Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Democratic possibilities include former Senate candidate Kael Weston, State Senator Kathleen Riebe (regardless if she wins or loses the special election for the second congressional district), Senate Minority Leader Luz Robles, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and former congressman Ben McAdams.

Open U.S. Senate seats rarely occur. But when they do, a flurry of both well-known and completely unknown candidates seek the office. This is a healthy element in our democracy, and we should all be grateful that so many qualified, competent citizens desire public service.

We congratulate Sen. Romney for his years of service and the classy way he is bowing out. But don’t expect him to be a lame duck for the next several months. We expect he will be hardworking, outspoken and truth-telling on many issues — and effective.

Break out the popcorn and enjoy what’s to come!

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