Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson is exploring a run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney.
Wilson, a Kaysville Republican who was first elected to the Utah House in 2010, is currently in his seventh term in the Utah Legislature. He was House Majority Leader for one term before being elected speaker in 2019.
“Utahns deserve a bold, proven, and conservative leader to represent them in our nation’s capital,” said Wilson, seemingly taking a swipe at Romney in a press release.
“We live in a moment of waning confidence and trust in our federal government and need reasonable and conservative voices to restore faith in democracy. As such, I am exploring a run for the U.S. Senate in 2024 to bring Utah values – hard work, sacrifice, personal responsibility, and collaboration – to D.C. The United States of America stands at a defining moment. Utah has results to prove our systems, processes, and policies work. It is time for us to step up, come together, and show the country the Utah Way Forward,” Wilson continued.
Wilson’s move could lead to tensions with Romney. Multiple GOP sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune that news of Wilson’s impending announcement was met with ire from Romney’s camp earlier this week, as the incumbent has not yet decided whether to seek a second term in 2024. In a curious bit of timing, Romney filed his declaration of candidacy paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.
A recent poll from OH Predictive Insights found that Romney is viewed favorably by 51% of Utahns, but more than half of the state’s Republicans don’t want him to run for another term in Washington.
Romney’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
If Wilson hopes to leap from the top spot in the Utah House to higher office, he’ll have to overcome recent Utah political history as the electoral road is strewn with the bones of former speakers who fell short of higher office.
In 2004, Marty Stephens attempted to use the speaker’s chair as a springboard to the governor’s office. He finished in 5th place at the Republican convention. Stephens was hired as the chief lobbyist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2017.
Nolan Karras, who was speaker for one term from 1989 to 1990, advanced to the GOP gubernatorial primary that year, losing to eventual winner Jon Huntsman.
Former House Speaker David Clark resigned from the Utah Legislature in 2011 to run for Congress in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. He finished second at the Utah GOP convention behind current Congressman Chris Stewart.
Greg Hughes, who served two terms as Speaker from 2015 to 2018, finished in third place in the 2020 Utah Republican gubernatorial primary behind Spencer Cox and Jon Huntsman.
A handful of former House leaders have been able to ascend to higher office, but none since Rob Bishop, who was Speaker from 1992 to 1994, was elected to Congress in 2002. Bishop succeeded Republican Congressman Jim Hansen, who was Speaker of the Utah House from 1979 to 1980.
Federal Election Commission rules allow potential candidates to form an exploratory committee for federal office to test the waters and gauge support for a possible campaign. Candidates who use the exploratory committee mechanism can raise and spend campaign funds over $5,000, but any donations must comply with federal fundraising limits.
Wilson has been a prolific fundraiser during his tenure in the Utah Legislature. His leadership political action committee raised $221,000 last year and $133,000 in 2021. However, that cash can’t be directly transferred to a federal campaign.
There are a handful of other Utah Republicans considering running for Romney’s seat in 2024. Attorney General Sean Reyes, former Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Trump national security adviser Robert O’Brien and state Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine are all said to be considering a bid.
This story is breaking and will be updated throughout the day.