Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has drawn a Republican primary challenger who launched his campaign by criticizing the first-term senator for having supported bipartisan spending deals, voting to convict President Donald Trump in his two impeachment trials and voting to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
Trent Staggs, the mayor of Riverton, Utah, a municipality of about 45,000 people near Salt Lake City, kicked off his bid Tuesday with a video in which he also highlighted Romney’s former residency in Massachusetts — where he served as governor from 2003 to 2007 — and accused Romney of breaking promises made in his 2018 Senate campaign.
“The only thing I’ve seen him fight for are the establishment, wokeness, open borders, impeaching President Trump and putting us even deeper into debt,” Staggs said in the video.
Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, has yet to announce whether he will seek a second Senate term next year representing his adoptive state. Staggs indicated that he is seeking the GOP nomination regardless of Romney’s decision.
The primary field in the heavily Republican state — in which Romney prevailed with more than 62 percent of the vote in 2018 — could continue to grow. Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson (R) last month announced the formation of an exploratory committee for the 2024 race.
Staggs is perhaps best known in Utah for his fierce opposition as mayor to mask mandates and other health precautions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In 2020, when we were told to shut down businesses, schools and churches, I said no,” he boasts in his video.
Staggs launched his Senate candidacy as negotiations continue in Washington between the White House and House Republicans over spending cuts and other concessions GOP lawmakers are demanding in exchange for an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling.
In his video and media interviews, Staggs cast himself as unwilling to compromise on such issues.
“I think every time we compromise, it ends up costing us trillions of dollars,” he told the Deseret News.
“I just can’t believe that we’re at $32 trillion in debt,” Staggs told the publication (the actual figure is about $31.4 trillion). “And I think that’s the height of immorality to have really put that level of burden on my kids and on future generations. It’s time to be uncompromising with respect to getting our fiscal house in order.”
In the Senate, Romney has demonstrated a willingness to work with Democrats on fiscal issues and other matters and has at times fiercely criticized Trump.
He voted to convict Trump in his 2020 Senate impeachment trial on charges related to pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, as well as in Trump’s 2021 trial on a charge of inciting an insurrection related to his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump was acquitted in the Senate in both cases because the two-thirds threshold to convict was not met.
Staggs told the Deseret News that he thinks Romney will seek reelection and that he voted for him 2018.
Romney is a “really good family man,” Staggs told the publication, but he said he considers Romney’s policy ideas “ruinous for America.”