Gov. Gary Herbert and the state Republican Party chairman are telling former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon to back off and leave Utah’s 2018 Senate race alone.
“For people to think they can come in from outside and shape our thinking process or what we think is important and proper, I think is a waste of time and effort and they might as well stay home,” said Herbert, who has held elective office continuously since 1990.
Still, the offer from Bannon — to finance a far-right candidate to challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch should he run for re-election next year — is enticing to some looking to get into the race. At least two conservative Republicans are considering a bid.
“There’s always going to be outside influence,” said state Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. “If it’s a conservative with conservative values, I don’t mind them putting in money at all.”
Noel, who’s acknowledged that he’s “a lot like Trump” and has built his political career on challenging federal land management, said he’d consider running if Hatch didn’t make a bid for an eighth term.
A few months ago, Noel met Bannon before the strategist left President Donald Trump’s administration and returned to the ultraconservative Breitbart News, where he has promoted his nationalist agenda and supported firebrand candidates. There are at least 15 races Bannon intends to target during midterm elections, part of an expanded effort to unseat longtime incumbents and oust Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Noel said he “doesn’t even know” if Bannon remembers him. The Utah lawmaker does, however, support getting rid of “arcane rules” in the Senate on voting procedures and filibusters — a position that Bannon is supposedly looking for in choosing challengers to back.
“It’s certainly an opportunity when you have a race like that to get some of these issues out,” Noel said. “I’m really not afraid to say what I believe.”
He cares more about where the candidate is from than where the money is from. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee who has refused to address rumors that he’d be interested in the seat if Hatch decided to retire, “is certainly not a Utahn,” Noel said. The comments from Herbert and Rob Anderson, the state’s Republican Party chairman, haven’t scared Noel off either.
Anderson is critical of Bannon’s plans and contends that it’s “ridiculous” to expect him to swing Utah’s Senate race next year. “Who does this guy think he is? He doesn’t know Utah,” the chairman told The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday.
Herbert, for his part, said he doesn’t like the negativity that he suggests accompanies outside influence on the state’s elections. Utahns, he said, “ought to reject it.”
“It’s offensive when people come in from outside the state and act like we don’t represent the people who have elected us just because they maybe have a different point of view or emphasize different points.”
The governor also said that Hatch “has obviously been very successful” during his more than 40 years in office and tweeted Tuesday that “we don’t need non-Utahns telling Utahns how to vote or who to vote for.” Ideological groups have tried to unseat Hatch before, Herbert added, and it hasn’t worked.
The senator says he’ll decide by the end of the year whether to seek an eighth term and Trump has been encouraging him to run, according to Hatch’s staff.
Sutherland Institute President Boyd Matheson, a former chief of staff of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is also considering a bid.
“I’ve been encouraged by people across the spectrum, from kinds like Steve Bannon and from people who were in the never Trump camp, to take a look at the race,” Matheson said Friday.
He sat down with Bannon last week to talk about a potential campaign and shortcomings he sees in the Senate. They did not discuss financing or support, Matheson added.
If he were to run, Matheson insists it would not be dependent on Hatch or Romney or Herbert or even Bannon (whom he has “a lot of disagreements [with] for sure”).