Brad Wilson says he’ll be a ‘conservative fighter’ in Washington, formally launches 2024 Senate campaign

The announcement comes a week after Sen. Mitt Romney said he wasn’t running for reelection.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brad Wilson, the outgoing Utah House speaker, formally announces his 2024 U.S. Senate campaign to a crowd of supporters in Draper, Utah, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

Draper • House Speaker Brad Wilson launched his 2024 U.S. Senate campaign in front of an audience of approximately a couple hundred people — many of whom were fellow state lawmakers — with a quote from the late President Ronald Reagan.

In his inaugural address, Reagan said, “Freedom is ... never more than one generation away from extinction.” And under “radicals in D.C.,” Wilson told the crowd of supporters, freedoms “are actually being assaulted.”

In a schoolhouse-turned-event venue in Draper on Wednesday, Wilson listed what he sees as problems with crime, government assistance and schools nationwide. In the nation’s capital, Wilson said, change needs to happen, adding, “I am that conservative fighter.”

“It is time to send a conservative fighter that’s not going to wave the white flag when the going gets tough, and a conservative fighter that when needed can be trusted to go on the offensive and roll back taxes and stop reckless spending,” Wilson said.

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for Utahns and politicos speculating who might represent the state in Washington following 2024. Sen. Mitt Romney announced on Sept. 13 that he wouldn’t run for reelection, and five days later, Wilson released a statement saying he planned to step down as speaker of the Utah House of Representatives to pursue the seat.

One week later in Draper, supporters and their children lined up for beverages filled with syrups and creams at a soda bar operated by Thirst Drinks, some holding campaign-distributed signs embellished with his name, and the words “Utah’s own.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brad Wilson, the outgoing Utah House speaker, formally announces his 2024 U.S. Senate campaign to a crowd of supporters in Draper, Utah, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

About an hour after the event started, Wilson walked out as his family and friends stood on risers behind him, with a Toby Keith song playing over cheers.

“If we don’t act in Washington, Joe Biden and radical leftists — as well as go-along-to-get-along Republicans — are taking us down dead-end streets,” Wilson told the crowd. “These dead-end streets are where schools are teaching our kids what to think instead of how to think, where government right now is handing out so much money that some people can live better lives with handouts than they can by going and earning a paycheck.”

He continued, “Prosecutors are choosing to look the other way because they don’t like laws so they choose not to enforce them, and unelected bureaucrats and elitist experts try to impose lockdowns and vaccine mandates on us at the expense of our liberty and our ability to make decisions for ourselves.”

“We want Brad! We want Brad!” supporters cheered during a pause in his speech.

It’s unclear what kind of support the state lawmaker, who’s served in the Legislature for just over a decade, might enjoy.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Greg Hughes hugs Brad Wilson as he takes the stage to launch his 2024 Senate campaign at The Studio in Draper, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

In a recent poll conducted before Romney’s announcement, and published the day after, 7% of registered voters said they would cast a ballot for him as opposed to other potential candidates. He was tied with state Sen. Mike Kennedy, and trailed behind Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes — who has said he will not run. The majority of those surveyed said they were undecided.

During the week leading up to the event, Wilson spent a few thousand dollars advertising the launch on Facebook, according to Meta’s Ad Library, encouraging Utahns to sign up for a “free ticket.”

Prior to Wilson taking the stage, Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith, head of the Utah Sheriffs Association, along with Republican state Reps. Kera Birkeland and Karianne Lisonbee, voiced their support for Wilson moving to Washington. Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who has also sought higher office, introduced Wilson.

The two woman representatives, who stood side-by-side as they spoke on stage, praised Wilson’s leadership in helping them enact bills that limit transgender girls’ ability to participate in school sports that align with their gender identity, and further restrict abortion.

“When my bill was vetoed, it was Brad who stepped up and fought with me to override the veto,” said Birkeland, reflecting on Republican Gov. Spencer Cox’s 2022 decision to reject the sports ban, after which the Legislature called a special session to go around him. “Brad helped gather all the support that was needed and gave me the confidence to continue forward, doing what I knew was right for Utah.”

Lisonbee, who successfully introduced a bill — that is currently being held up in court — to ban abortion clinics in Utah, added, “Brad and I also worked together many times to defend life and support women. His advocacy and work behind the scenes paved the way for many unique and effective pro-life and pro-women policies.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Kera Birkeland and Rep. Karianne Lisonbee say a few words as Brad Wilson launches his 2024 Senate campaign at The Studio in Draper, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

An early August news release from Wilson’s exploratory committee boasted the support of several dozen “conservative Utah legislators,” saying they were endorsing and encouraging him to run.

Wilson announced he was exploring entering the race in mid-April, despite having registered with the Federal Election Commission as a candidate that same day. On Wednesday afternoon, the exploratory committee filed with the FEC to change its name to “Brad Wilson for U.S. Senate.”

What’s next

The speaker won’t leave his role in the Legislature for a couple of months, saying in a statement earlier this month that his resignation will be effective Nov. 15. Republican delegates in his district will choose a new representative, and House Republicans will pick his replacement.

So far, five candidates have filed with the FEC to enter the race, including Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who was the first to say he was vying for the seat last spring, and Roosevelt Mayor Rod Bird.

Others are expected to join the gaggle of Republicans competing for the now-open position in Washington. In a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday, a campaign spokesperson for U.S. Rep. John Curtis, who represents the 3rd Congressional District, confirmed that he is seriously eyeing the possibility of entering the race.

Embattled anti-human-trafficking activist Tim Ballard is also rumored to be considering a run.