Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville renewed his endorsement of Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs on Friday at an event with Utah Republican delegates ahead of the state GOP convention in April.

Tuberville stood at the dais of Layton’s Faith Baptist Church and encouraged the assembly of more than 150 state and county delegates to throw their support behind Stagg’s bid to replace Sen. Mitt Romney.

The former Auburn University football coach said he needed Staggs — “a Trump guy” — to join him, Sen. Mike Lee and a group of 15-18 other senators who will “follow President Trump’s lead” and “get things done for the American people and not for the establishment.”

“There’s a difference between a Republican and a conservative Christian Republican which needs to be in Washington, D.C., like Trent Staggs,” Tuberville said.

Tuberville’s is the first U.S. Senate endorsement in the crowded race to become Utah’s next junior senator.

Who is running for U.S. Senate in Utah?

Staggs became the first major candidate to declare his bid for Senate in May, four months before Romney announced he would not be seeking reelection. He quickly framed himself as a bold conservative “fighter” and sought, and received, the endorsements of several prominent pro-Trump conservatives, including Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake, former Trump administration official Kash Patel and conservative political commentators Charlie Kirk and Mark Levin.

The Riverton mayor, who previously served on the city council, now faces a field of 10 candidates, some of whom have more financial resources and name recognition. Also vying for Romney’s soon-to-be open seat are 3rd District congressman John Curtis, former state House Speaker Brad Wilson, conservative political adviser Carolyn Phippen and Brent Hatch, the son of Utah’s longest-serving senator, and 6 others.

Staggs has announced he plans to try to secure a spot on the primary ballot through delegate votes and not signature gathering, unlike most of his challengers. A minority of Senate candidates, including Staggs and Phippen, have placed all their election hopes in the state party’s nominating convention on April 27, opting not to gather voters’ signatures to appear on the primary ballot.

“I’m going 100% through the caucus convention,” Staggs said to applause. “We’ve got the grassroots. We can win. We can win in the primary against establishment figures. But I need to get on the ballot.”

Staggs also tried to differentiate himself from the pack of candidates by saying he was willing to challenge Romney before he announced he wouldn’t run again.

The Senate hopeful repeatedly compared himself to Utah’s other sitting senator. Delegates could look to Lee as an example of the type of “constitutional conservative” he would be in office, Staggs said, referencing his record of opposing mask and vaccine mandates as proof he is someone “willing to stand up to the establishment.”

“The decision is are we going to replace Mitt Romney with Mitt Romney 2.0? Or are we going to put in another Mike Lee?” Staggs said.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., endorses Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs in his U.S. Senate race at an event at Faith Baptist Church in Layton on March 15, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Tuberville praises Mike Lee

Tuberville also took time to praise Lee, calling him one of his “best friends” and a “nerd” who could quote the Constitution from memory.

Lee was one of Tuberville’s only steadfast supporters during a monthslong effort to reverse a Defense Secretary-instituted policy that allows active-duty service members to receive a reimbursement for abortion-related travel. Together, the two senators used procedural measures to delay military promotions despite pushback from many within their own party.

It was Tuberville’s willingness to stand up to the majority to defend conservative principles that motivated Staggs to seek his endorsement in January, Staggs said.

“That’s the type of courage that we need,” he told the Deseret News. “We need more senators like that.”

During a question and answer period following their remarks, Staggs and Tuberville were asked about the U.S. government providing military and monetary support to Ukraine in its defensive war against Russia.

Tuberville called giving foreign aid to Ukraine a “scam,” claiming the U.S. provoked Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by pushing for Ukraine’s inclusion into NATO and had prolonged the war by opposing peace talks after Russia’s invasion and providing Ukrainians with weapons.

“President Trump will stop it in a very short period of time, it’ll be over,” Tuberville said.

Staggs added he would not support giving more assistance to Ukraine on top of the billions already sent because he is “more concerned about American sovereignty and our border than somewhere overseas.”

To “slow the spread of government,” Staggs said he would be willing to cause a partial shutdown if it meant cutting spending and rejecting short term funding extensions or massive omnibus spending bills.

Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville endorses Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs in his U.S. Senate run during an election event in Layton at Faith Baptist Church on Friday, March 15, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

What did delegates say?

Tuberville’s endorsement was less important than Stagg’s position on key issues like immigration and fiscal policy, delegates said before the event.

“I think the endorsement means something,” said Kevin Polson, a state delegate representing Precinct 9 in south Weber. “But aside from that, I want to hear specifically what our local leaders are feeling. Utah is different enough from Alabama that I think there’s merit beyond just the endorsement.”

Polson, and Layton delegate Sondra Trillo, both cited border security as the top concern they were looking for Staggs to address.

Following the event, delegates said Staggs and Tuberville had spoken to the issues they cared about most and would support Staggs at convention.

“I support constitutional conservatives like Mike Lee. (Staggs) is in that same mold,” said Bruce Kupfer, a delegate representing Precinct 41 in Layton, adding that conventiongoers will likely be attracted to Staggs because signature-gatherers like Curtis and Wilson will end up on the primary ballot without their support.

Dan Diehl, a county delegate from Summit County who was wearing a Trump hat and hoodie, said he was previously unfamiliar with Staggs, but Tuberville’s endorsement convinced him that he was the most likely to support the former president’s America First agenda.

“I 100% agree across the board of what their vision is what they’re sharing,” Diehl said. “I believe you have to follow through with what you said you are going to do and in this case Mitt Romney completely switched on a variety of issues.”

But Staggs told the Deseret News he wants those who do support Romney to know he would represent them as well.

“Even those of the Republican Party that support Romney, even those Democrats and others, I’m going to go back to represent all Utahns,” Staggs said.

Coltan Eastman asks a question to Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who has endorsed Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs in his U.S. Senate run, during an election event in Layton at Faith Baptist Church on Friday, March 15, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News