Utah Senator Mitt Romney, a prominent figure in the Republican Party, declared on Wednesday that he will not seek reelection in 2024. This decision sets the stage for a highly competitive race in a state that traditionally leans heavily towards the GOP and is expected to draw numerous contenders.
In a video statement, Romney, a former presidential candidate and Massachusetts governor, cited the need for fresh leadership, asserting that a new generation of leaders should take the helm to make decisions that will shape the world they will inhabit. At 76 years old, he acknowledged that by the end of another six-year Senate term, he would be in his mid-80s.
While not directly referencing the ages of President Joe Biden (80) and former President Donald Trump (77), both potential candidates for their parties’ 2024 presidential nominations, Romney criticized them for what he perceived as inadequate responses to pressing national concerns such as the growing national debt and climate change.
Romney comfortably won his Senate seat in reliably Republican Utah in 2018. However, he encountered increasing resistance within his own party after emerging as one of its most visible members to break ranks with Trump, who continues to wield significant influence within the GOP.
In 2020, Romney made history as the first senator in the United States to vote to convict a president from his own party in an impeachment trial. He was the sole Republican to vote against Trump in his first impeachment and one of seven who voted to convict him in the second. Trump was acquitted on both occasions.
Following his second impeachment vote, Romney faced jeers from an assembly of the most active members of the Utah Republican Party, and a motion to censure him narrowly failed. In the 2022 midterm elections, some party members even used the term “Mitt Romney Republican” as a pejorative against their opponents.
Despite these challenges, Romney has generally maintained popularity in Utah, where a faction of the party has favored civil conservatism and resisted Trump’s unconventional style of politics. The state is also home to entities like the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, anti-Trump Republican Evan McMullin, who ran a longshot 2016 presidential campaign, and GOP Governor Spencer Cox, who has been critical of Trump and is also up for reelection in 2024.
A significant portion of Utah’s population belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Romney, a graduate of Brigham Young University, is one of the faith’s most prominent figures. His association with the church and his role in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, plagued by bribery scandals, helped cement his standing in the state.
Romney, a former private equity executive who served as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007, relocated to Utah after his 2012 presidential loss to Barack Obama. During his presidential campaign, he struggled with the perception that he was out of touch with ordinary Americans, particularly due to a secretly recorded comment at a fundraiser in which he mentioned not being concerned about winning the votes of the “47% of Americans” who he said “believe they are victims” and “pay no income tax.”
In 2016, Romney openly criticized Trump, then a presidential candidate, delivering a harsh speech in Utah in which he called Trump “a phony, a fraud” and deemed him unfit for the presidency. After Trump’s election victory, Romney considered the role of secretary of state but was not chosen, with Trump selecting Rex Tillerson instead.
Despite these differences, Romney accepted Trump’s endorsement during the primary race for his 2018 Senate campaign while vowing to continue speaking out against divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest, or institutionally damaging actions by the president, as he expressed in an op-ed that year.