More Utahns than not approve of how Sen. Mitt Romney is doing his job, yet a little over half don’t think he should run for reelection in 2024.
The latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll further reveals the love-hate relationship voters in the state, especially Republicans, have with the first-term GOP senator.
Romney has a slightly higher job approval rating than disapproval rating, 48.9% to 46.9%, according to the survey. Those numbers have remained fairly consistent since he took office nearly four years ago.
But looking ahead to 2024, 51.3% of voters in the state say he should definitely or probably not seek a second term, while 47.4% say he definitely or probably should run.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll of 802 registered Utah voters Nov. 18-23. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
“I don’t think this should be interpreted as anything Romney should be terribly concerned about at this point,” said Jim Curry, a University of Utah political science professor, referencing past polls about two venerable U.S. senators.
In 2011, 54% of Utah voters wanted the late Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch to retire, while only 31% thought he should be reelected. Hatch went on to win the 2012 GOP primary and general elections in landslides.
More recently, 64% of Iowans thought longtime GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, 89, should retire and just 27% wanted him to run for another term. He easily won reelection in 2022.
“What you see is a phenomenon of when you’re far away from the election and the candidate is old or maybe not the person you love the most in the world, right now the hypothetical of do you want this guy around or not turns into a no,” Curry said. “But that doesn’t mean anything about what’s going to happen come Election Day two years down the line.”
Romney has not revealed his plans, though he hinted at a possible reelection bid in 2019.
“If I get everything done in one term, well, I’ll probably not be looking for another term,” he told Politico back then. “But it’s very unlikely. So it’s far more likely that I’ll be here more than one term given the agenda that I have.”
Amid speculation about reelection earlier this month, a Romney spokeswoman told the Deseret News the senator is focused on tackling inflation, reining in the national debt, solving the West’s water challenges and delivering solutions for Utah issues.
If Romney does go for a second term, he’s certain to face a primary challenger, which is where the seat would be won or lost. Romney easily beat a more conservative Republican preferred by GOP delegates in a closed primary in 2018 before doing the same to a Democrat in the general election. And his next GOP opponent or opponents, potentially including Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, would more than likely be running right of him.
A majority of Utah Republicans, though, don’t want Romney to even try for another term, especially those on the far right.
The survey found 56.3% of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans say he shouldn’t run for reelection, compared to 42.1% who say he should. Among those self-identified as “very conservative” voters, the number of those who don’t want him to run swells to 79.7%, while just over half of “somewhat conservative” voters say he shouldn’t run.
Curry said Romney’s team would probably prefer to see a poll showing three-fourths of Utahns love him and want him to run again “but I don’t see this as particularly troubling or unusual for a senator in his 70s.”
The poll shows dissatisfaction with Romney heavily skewed toward very conservative voters, which was the same for Hatch in 2012, Curry said. “But it doesn’t seem there’s enough of those voters to really unseat somebody,” he said.
Romney continues to have solid support among Democrats in Utah.
The poll found 72.4% of Utahns who identified as Democrats want him to run again. More than 65% of voters who identified as “very liberal” or “somewhat liberal” say Romney should seek reelection as do more than 62% of “moderate” Utahns, according to the survey.
Romney, 75, has said he’s enjoying his time in the Senate and believes he has been effective, pointing to his bipartisan work on major legislation and delivering on roads, bridges, water, broadband, wildfire prevention and energy research for Utah.
Halfway through his term, Romney put out a list of his accomplishments, including his bipartisan work on major legislation and delivering on roads, bridges, water, broadband, wildfire prevention and energy research for Utah. He said in June that much work remains to be done over the next three years but made no mention of anything beyond that.
One Utah politico says he hears regularly from people in the state who are urging Romney to run again because his leadership is needed on many major issues facing Utah and the country.
“Given the election results, voters are looking toward a more positive and effective vision for the GOP and Mitt is well positioned to play a major part in that,” the source said.
The anticipated red wave in last month’s midterm election never materialized. Republicans barely took back the House but were not able to gain control of the Senate.
As for Romney’s work in the Senate, the poll found only 43.6% of Republicans approve of his job performance, while 51.6% disapprove. The survey shows 60.9% of Democrats approve of his work, while 34.6% disapprove.
More than three-fourths of “very conservative” voters disapprove of his performance, while “somewhat conservative” Utahns are about evenly split. More than 60% of moderates and liberals give his work a thumbs up.