Facing potential GOP challenger, Romney’s Senate future in question

'He will make a final decision in the coming months. In the meantime, we’re ensuring he’s well prepared to run if he chooses,’ Romney’s chief of staff said in a statement

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Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) speaks to reporters in the Senate subway on his way to a vote at the U.S. Capitol.

Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) meager first-quarter fundraising report is fueling questions about whether the moderate Republican, who has found himself increasingly out of step with his party and could face serious primary challengers, will seek reelection in 2024.

The 76-year-old first-term senator was elected in 2018, having previously served as the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007 and the GOP presidential nominee in 2012. Romney has represented the shrinking faction of pragmatists within the Republican Party as a longtime critic of former President Donald Trump and as a bulwark against other right-wing forces in the party. 

Romney announced last week that he raised just $112,000 in the first quarter of 2023, shortly after Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson’s announcement that he is exploring a primary bid for the Senate seat in 2024. Recent polling found that more than half of Utah Republicans don’t want Romney to run for a second term. Asked yesterday about Wilson’s potential bid, Romney said, “come on in, the water’s fine,” HuffPost reported.

The Utah senator’s chief of staff, Liz Johnson, told Jewish Insider that the senator has not yet made a decision on running for a second term.

“As the Senator has said, he will make a final decision in the coming months. In the meantime, we’re ensuring he’s well prepared to run if he chooses,” Johnson said in a statement.

Matthew Burbank, a political science professor at the University of Utah, told JI that many in Utah are questioning Romney’s political future.

“What we’ve seen from him so far is he’s made the minimal sort of efforts to pursue reelection, but he hasn’t done so very wholeheartedly,” Burbank explained. “He hasn’t announced that he’s going to [run], he hasn’t done any push in terms of fundraising,” Burbank added, also noting that Romney hasn’t communicated his plans to other potential candidates “who he might like to have run for that seat if he’s not going to.”

However, Michael Lyons, a political scientist at Utah State University, noted that Romney “can probably raise a great deal of money in a relatively short time frame,” if he does ultimately decide to enter the race.

“And also, running a general election in Utah as a Republican isn’t going to cost gobs and gobs of money,” Lyons continued, noting that Utah’s idiosyncratic primary process could make it possible to win without a massive war chest. If the anti-Romney wing fails to coalesce, that could create an opening for Romney to make it through the primary process.

Romney was the only Republican who voted twice to convict Trump in his Senate impeachment trials. Former Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Ben Sasse (R-NE), all of whom voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment, chose to retire from the Senate rather than face voters again.

On the House side, just two of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2020 remain in office; the remainder lost their primaries in 2022 or chose not to seek reelection.

Evan McMullin, an independent, challenged Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) in the 2022 Senate election, with the backing of the state’s Democratic Party, which did not field its own candidate. He lost by more than 10 percentage points. Romney declined to endorse either candidate.

Romney has served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since he was elected, and chaired the Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism in the 116th Congress. Romney is one of a shrinking number of Republicans who continues to strongly endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was one of just two SFRC Republicans who voted in the committee in favor of Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt’s confirmation as special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism.

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