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Utah contest to replace Romney in U.S. Senate gains more GOP candidates

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Utah contest to replace Romney in U.S. Senate gains more GOP candidates

Jan 03, 2024 | 10:07 am ET
By Jacob Fischler
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John Curtis, a fourth-term U.S. House member from Utah, will join the Republican field to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, pictured above. (Photo by Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)
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John Curtis, a fourth-term U.S. House member from Utah, will join the Republican field to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, pictured above. (Photo by Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Images)

John Curtis, a fourth-term U.S. House member from Provo, Utah, will join the Republican field to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, Curtis told States Newsroom ahead of a formal announcement Wednesday morning.

Curtis is a late entrant in the Utah GOP primary race, which also includes former state House Speaker Brad Wilson and a hard-right favorite, Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs. 

In addition to Wilson and Staggs, Brent Orrin Hatch, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, filed paperwork Tuesday to run for the seat. Sen. Hatch served for 42 years before his retirement in 2019.

Curtis said in a Tuesday interview he hopes to leverage his experience in Washington, where he was ranked the ninth-most-effective House Republican by the nonpartisan research group Center for Effective Lawmaking.

U.S. Rep. John Curtis, a Utah Republican. (Photo courtesy of his Senate campaign)
U.S. Rep. John Curtis, a Utah Republican. (Photo courtesy of his Senate campaign)

“I understand the ways the wheels move in Washington, how to pass legislation, how to get things done,” he said.

A member of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Curtis founded the Conservative Climate Caucus, which aims to advance “Republican solutions” to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. 

Curtis said he grew up hiking and fishing in the Wasatch Mountain Range.

“I was really disturbed by the Republican brand of not caring” about the environment, he said.

The Conservative Climate Caucus calls for a free-market approach to lower emissions, promotes research and development spending and highlights China’s role in growing emissions. Those policies are “in harmony with” Republican ideology, Curtis said.

‘Not either one’

Utah’s two sitting senators, Romney, who was often in the middle of bipartisan dealmaking during his term in office, and Mike Lee, who’s built a reputation as a conservative firebrand, present “a pretty good contrast,” Curtis said.

But he added neither one, representing opposite poles of the Senate Republican Caucus, would be models for him as a senator.

“I’m not either one of them,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for both of them, but I just don’t think I’ve modeled myself after either.”

As senator, Curtis said he would prioritize climate and energy and public lands issues, which he said have been important to his Eastern Utah district.

He also said he’d like to focus on immigration policy. 

“I would love to be part of the solution there,” he said.

Uphill primary

Curtis faces a crowded field in the Republican primary.

Wilson has raised more than $3 million and has the endorsement of the state’s Republican Gov. Spencer Cox and scores of state lawmakers

Staggs has built a base of support in the wing of the GOP most loyal to former President Donald Trump. Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate from Arizona in 2022 and a Trump favorite, headlined a September fundraiser for Staggs. 

Other Trump-aligned figures, including former Defense Department official Kash Patel and far-right commentator Charlie Kirk, have endorsed Staggs.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, won the 2018 race to replace Hatch. He was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump in each of the former president’s impeachment trials.

Staggs and Wilson both began laying the groundwork for their campaigns before Romney announced in September that he would not seek reelection.

The primary election is scheduled for June 25. The Republican candidate will be heavily favored to win the general election in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 2-to-1.

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