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The number of Utah Republicans who say they approve of Sen. Mitt Romney’s performance has jumped dramatically over the past few months, according to a new poll. The poll also shows growing support for a second run for Utah’s junior senator, who is up for reelection in 2024.
The poll includes another question on who Utahns would vote for in a possible 2024 Republican primary, with Romney coming out ahead of challenger Trent Staggs, the mayor of Riverton who is campaigning to the right of Romney, and Utah Speaker Brad Wilson, who is exploring a run for the seat.
Romney has not said yet whether he will run again. He recently told Utah media he would decide this fall whether to seek a second term, and would make an announcement before the end of the year.
“What I’m trying to do is to decide whether I can get some things done that I care about. In other terms, how productive can I be?” he said. “Because our state deserves someone who can actually get things done, work across the aisle if need be to accomplish things, and I’m getting a sense of whether that’s going to be something that I can do in another term.”
Poll numbers from May showed Romney had some vulnerability among Republican voters, which could mean a struggle in a Republican primary.
But Romney’s job approval among Utah Republicans shot up over the summer, from 40% in May to 56% in August. Romney still struggles with self-described “very conservative” voters, with almost half saying in the August poll they strongly disapprove of his job performance, but did better among “moderate” and “somewhat conservative” voters.
Meanwhile, 54% of all Utah voters said they strongly or somewhat approve of Romney’s performance.
The poll was conducted Aug. 7-14 of 803 registered Utah voters by Dan Jones & Associates, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said these are the strongest approval ratings he’s seen for Romney in the past three years of polling.
Perry said he believes there are a few reasons Romney is seeing more support from Utah Republicans.
“One is he’s been quite vocal in his opposition to President (Joe) Biden on several things recently, particularly in terms of the economy, foreign policy, and public lands. Sen. Romney has taken a pretty firm and very public stand against Biden’s policies on those issues,” said Perry.
Growing approval for Romney could also be connected to the appearance that he’s been spending less time acting as a “foil” to former President Donald Trump, said Perry.
“There’s been less of that lately, and more of him trying to be a consensus builder of sorts within the party itself, in terms of who the next nominee is going to be,” he said.
Romney could also have been helped by his recent tour of the state, where he touted the federal dollars he helped get for projects in Utah, including through the infrastructure bill, which he had a hand in getting through Congress, said Perry.
“There are actual projects that are coming to the state of Utah because of his efforts,” he said.
Name recognition is also an obvious advantage for Romney, stemming from his long career in national politics, including two runs for president.
“One of the unique aspects of Sen. Romney, whether voters support him or not, is that he has a platform that gets immediate attention nationwide. When he makes a comment, people talk about it, the press report on it, presidents respond to it. He has made himself relevant on the national stage,” Perry said.
When Utah voters were asked whether Romney should run for a second term in 2024, the poll showed 35% of Utah voters said they definitely want Romney to run for a second term, while 21% said maybe. Another 12% said Romney should probably not run again, and 32% said definitely not.
Half of Republicans chose definitely or maybe, while 61% of Democrats in Utah said the same. The strongest support for a second run came from self-described moderates, 56% of whom said Romney should definitely run, while 28% said maybe.
He had less support among voters who describe themselves as “very conservative,” with only 10% saying he should definitely run, while 65% said definitely not. For “somewhat conservative” voters, 38% said he should definitely run and 19% said maybe.
While it’s still very early in the 2024 campaign season, so far Romney is performing well against potential challengers, according to the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll.
In a hypothetical matchup against Wilson and Staggs, Romney received support from 44% of respondents, while Wilson had 6% and Staggs 3%. One-third of voters said “another candidate” and 14% said they don’t know who they’ll vote for.
Among Republicans, 45% chose Romney, compared to 7% for Wilson, 5% for Staggs, 27% for another candidate, while 16% said they don’t know.
Perry said it’s too early to tell whether Romney would win reelection, but it’s clear that he has a strong base of support if he decides to run again.
“These numbers are instructive but that is all they are at this particular time as the field starts to shape up over the coming months,” he said.
Perry noted if Romney decides not to run, the field of candidates could start to look very different as additional candidates would likely enter the race.
Romney’s office continues to project confidence about his chances should he decide to run.
“Senator Romney continues to work hard for Utah and is well-positioned to win if he runs for re-election,” Romney’s spokesperson said in a statement to the Deseret News.
But Romney’s potential challengers said they still think voters are looking for a change in 2024.
“Utah Republicans want conservative leadership in the U.S. Senate. Brad Wilson has achieved record-breaking fundraising and earned a massive amount of endorsements, simply with an exploratory committee. Brad not only has the resources and support, but also the experience to win against anyone. This is just the beginning,” said Wilson spokesperson Chris Coombs.
The Staggs campaign accused Romney of voting for increased spending and debt while “people are struggling to afford gas, groceries, and homes.”
“I’m excited at the momentum we've seen and the coalition we’ve built, garnering endorsements from national conservatives like Mark Levin and Charlie Kirk, to scores of local elected officials. Voters are hungry for a proven conservative willing to push back against government overreach, and I’m giving them that option,” Staggs said in a statement to the Deseret News.
Meanwhile, Utah voters wait to see what Romney will decide to do, and who will be on their 2024 ballot.