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As Romney exits, Republicans line up to replace him

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Posted at 5:31 PM, Sep 13, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Senator Mitt Romney's announcement he will not seek re-election has instantly changed a lot of political fortunes across Utah.

READ: Politicians, colleagues thank Romney for service to Utah, country

"I would say there’s 10 to 15 people who have reached out to me over the last couple of months and a couple more over the last couple of hours," Utah Republican Party Chair Rob Axson told FOX 13 News. "We’ll see what they ultimately decide. There’s a number of Utahns from various walks of life who are looking at this."

But what remains to be seen is what style of Republican will succeed Sen. Romney. He still polled high, but the senator also angered many within his own party with his votes to impeach Trump and support of some bills Democrats pushed (Sen. Romney was famously booed at the 2021 Utah Republican Party convention).

"Sen. Romney certainly blazed his own brand and his own trail and there was times he was smack dab in the middle of where most Republicans are, and there were times when he was in the periphery of where Republicans are," Axson said.

There are two who are running to succeed Romney right now. House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, has an "exploratory committee."

"I thank Sen. Romney for his many years of service and appreciate his contributions to our state. Though we did not always see eye to eye, I wish him, Ann, and their family the best," Speaker Wilson said in a statement to FOX 13 News.

"We are at a crossroads, and it’s never been more important to elect a strong conservative fighter to the U.S. Senate. The stakes are too high, and we need a leader with the guts to stand up and get things done for the people of this state. I’ve been encouraged so far by the record-breaking fundraising, groundswell of grassroots support, and unprecedented endorsements we’ve received so far. Stay tuned."

Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs has formally declared his candidacy and expected a lot of financial backers and supporters who were sitting on the sidelines to rally behind him.

"It's seven months to the state convention so that’s really not a lot of time to cover a state of 3.2 million people and we are just going to continue to run every day," Mayor Staggs told FOX 13 News.

Mayor Staggs, a supporter of President Trump, said Utah needs another conservative in the vein of Sen. Mike Lee and he is that candidate.

"I'm grateful he’s decided to step aside," Mayor Staggs said of Sen. Romney. "Now it’s really going to enable us to move forward on this very conservative, America-first agenda that we have."

Congressman John Curtis didn't commit, but said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he'd been encouraged to run.

"It’s encouraging to hear from friends urging me to run for Senate. Sue & I are grateful for Utahns’ trust. Your appreciation for the work my team and I do in Congress is heartening. Be it in the House or Senate, there's much to accomplish & I look forward to getting things done," he wrote.

Some rumored names FOX 13 News contacted said they will not be running.

"Over the last several years, I have been asked by many in Utah, D.C. and across the country to run for his seat whether or not he was running for re-election. I believe I am in a great position to win that seat and could serve well as a senator," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement. "But, after a long time consulting with my family, praying and looking at where I can make the most difference and serve most effectively, I have decided it is not in DC but here at home. So, I am announcing my run for re-election as AG in the great state of Utah."

The attorney general said instead he will support a "dear friend of mine who is a great conservative, patriot and warrior to run and serve." He did not say who that is but teased an announcement within days.

Former House Speaker Greg Hughes, who recently lost a bid for GOP nomination for the 2nd Congressional District, said he was not interested in running for the seat.

"It’s nice of you to think of me but my public servant days are done," he said in a text message to FOX 13 News. "I like being citizen Hughes!"