Major candidate steps into the race to replace Mitt Romney

The representative from Utah’s 3rd Congressional District joins a crowded Republican field seeking to succeed outgoing Romney.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. Congressman John Curtis answers questions after speaking at the Sutherland Institute at Utah Valley University, on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023. Curtis will run for outgoing Sen. Mitt Romney's seat this year.

A lot can change in four months — just ask Rep. John Curtis.

In September, the Republican representing Utah’s 3rd Congressional District said he would not pursue the U.S. Senate seat occupied by outgoing Sen. Mitt Romney this year. But now, Curtis will execute an about-face on Wednesday morning by joining the crowded GOP field.

What changed? When Romney announced in September he was not seeking another term in office, it caught Curtis by surprise — as did the questions about whether he would jump into the race.

“It came at me 100 miles an hour,” Curtis told The Salt Lake Tribune. “There was a lot of pressure to move quickly.”

Republicans Brad Wilson and Trent Staggs had already been campaigning to succeed Romney for several months to raise money and line up endorsements. Curtis made a snap decision to stay out.

While Curtis said he originally thought he could best serve his constitutions in the House, he says the Senate’s larger profile would let him “do far more” for Utahns.

“When I took a little bit more time to answer that question,” he said, “it was clearly something I not only felt good about, but I felt like there was something I should do.”

It’s a familiar refrain for politicians to say they decided to become a candidate after hearing from supporters encouraging them to run. So, too, was the case for Curtis.

“I kind of make fun of politicians who hear ten voices that sound like 10,000. This was not just a few voices,” he said. “This was people from all walks of life reaching out to ask what is it going to take to get me to reconsider.”

Some of that encouragement manifested more publicly than others. A political action committee calling itself “Conservative Values for Utah” spent $89,000 in November on a television ad nudging Curtis toward reversing course.

Curtis says he also heard from a handful of current U.S. Senators who encouraged him to run for Romney’s seat but declined to say who.

“Those were all personal conversations. I don’t think any of them are prepared to endorse me, and I don’t want to imply that they’re endorsing me,” Curtis explained.

Multiple sources told The Salt Lake Tribune that Romney was one of those senators who lobbied him to join the race. Romney’s office did not comment directly on whether he had spoken to Curtis about running but noted they planned on not getting involved.

“Utah is fortunate to have several candidates who are interested in serving in the Senate, and while Senator Romney has great respect for Rep. Curtis and Speaker Wilson, he’s staying out of the race,” Liz Johnson, Romney’s chief of staff, said in a text message.

Last month, a poll by the Conservative Values for Utah PAC gave Curtis a 29-point lead over Wilson and a 34-point lead over Staggs in a hypothetical three-way primary contest. The same poll had Curtis leading Wilson by 32 points in a potential head-to-head matchup.

If elected, Curtis wants to continue his work on providing a conservative voice on climate change issues and remain involved in public land policy. He also would like to add regulation of social media and artificial intelligence to his portfolio, along with working on the financial sectors and foreign policy.

During his tenure in Congress, Curtis has mostly eschewed the politics of outrage and culture war issues.

“A lot of times when my colleagues in the House comment on those things, they have no intention of actually changing the situation. They want to get attention for their antics,” Curtis says. “It’s not that I don’t have an interest in those things, and it’s not that I don’t feel some changes are necessary. I’m not the type of politician that’s going to shout from the housetops to get attention with no intent of actually doing anything about it.”

Curtis’ low-key approach has angered some of the fiercely partisan Republicans in Utah who have taken to labeling him a RINO (Republican in Name Only). He says that’s not the case, and he is as loyal to the GOP as any other Republican, which is why he will vote for the GOP nominee for president next year, no matter who it may be.

“It appears we’re headed for a (Joe) Biden — (Donald) Trump contest. Under that scenario, I would vote for (former) President Trump,” Curtis says. But he qualifies that support, saying he won’t unquestioningly endorse every proposal from a potential second Trump administration.

“I intend to continue to be supportive when President Trump is working on things that I would say are in line with Utah values, but also to not be afraid to push back when he is out of line with those values,” Curtis says, pointing to the Trump-era policy of separating migrant families at the border.

Curtis joins a crowded field of candidates jostling for the GOP nomination. In addition to Wilson and Staggs, Carolyn Phippen, a former staffer for Sen. Mike Lee, and Brent O. Hatch, the son of late Sen. Orrin Hatch, have launched campaigns, among others.

Curtis says he plans to gather signatures to secure a spot on the primary ballot. During his 2022 reelection bid, he opted against the signature path, which led to him nearly being eliminated from the race at the hands of GOP delegates.

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