A mayor in Utah on May 23 launched a bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

“Right now, Washington is broken. And every time we compromise, it costs us trillions. We have more IRS agents than border agents. And while we’re paying $4 a gallon for gas, they’re sending our money unchecked to Ukraine. Now we’re almost $32 trillion in debt. Enough is enough,” Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said in his announcement video.

Staggs criticized Romney, who has earned ire from Republicans for some of his positions, including voting to convict then-President Donald Trump of impeachment, and said he believes someone else should represent Utah in Congress.

When Romney, 76, decided to run for Senate, the former Massachusetts governor said he’d push to end illegal immigration, balance the budget, combat federal government overreach, and confirm judges who adhere to the U.S. Constitution.

“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.

Headlines regarding Romney marching in a Black Lives Matter protest in Washington in 2020, voting twice to convict Trump of impeachment, and siding with Democrats and 17 other GOP senators to approve a $1.7 trillion spending package were shown to viewers.

Romney was also one of just three Republicans to vote for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a President Joe Biden appointee, and has helped confirm other Biden appointees like Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Staggs is the first major Republican to launch a campaign for the Senate seat in the red state.

Romney, whose office did not return a request for comment, has filed paperwork preparing for a run, but the senator has not made a final choice on a 2024 reelection campaign, his chief of staff told news outlets earlier this year.

“He will make a final decision in the coming months,” Liz Johnson, the chief of staff, told outlets previously.

Opposition to Mask Mandate

Staggs also highlighted how he stood up during the COVID-19 pandemic against a mask mandate.

Then-Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, in 2020 imposed mask mandates in Salt Lake County and Summit County.

Staggs, who was campaigning at the same time to become Salt Lake County’s mayor, said he would not enforce the mandate in Riverton.

“I will direct, along with our city manager, our police department to spend their resources in other areas that are really going to protect our public health,” Staggs told KUTV.

Staggs said he would encourage mask-wearing but opposed mandating it.

“Our residents will do the right thing when they’re asked to do something,” Staggs said. “They do not need the heavy hand of government to come down on them.”

Staggs later left open keeping the mandate in place if he were elected as county mayor. Staggs lost the race to Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, by about 37,000 votes out of some 500,000 cast.

“We saw in 2020 especially, we saw the heavy hand of government. I was one that said no and pushed back on lockdowns, on mandates,” Staggs told Deseret News. “I pushed back considerably because I don’t believe that’s in the purview of government. And I think I’ve been proven right.”

Another Possible Candidate

Romney, 76, is serving his first term in the Senate after moving to Utah from Massachusetts, where he lost an election in 1994 before becoming governor in 2003.

Romney emerged from a primary election in 2018 over state Rep. Mike Kennedy before beating Wilson with 62 percent of the vote. He has since repeatedly criticized Trump, and was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump in Trump’s first impeachment trial.

Romney voted to impeach Trump again in 2021, but Trump was acquitted both times.

Romney’s votes sparked censure and other backlash among Republicans in Utah and elsewhere, but he has kept his seat.

Romney could receive additional challengers, including Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, a Republican who said in April he was forming an exploratory committee as he weighs a bid.

“We’ve got this amazing opportunity to send Utah values back to D.C., and to have a conservative fighter back there, doing things back there the way we do them here in the Beehive State,” Wilson said at the time.

Several other Republicans have filed paperwork, including conservative Tyrone Jensen. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has also said he may run for the seat, while Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) said he will not launch a bid.

Political handicappers The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball all rate the seat as solid Republican.

Republicans currently have a minority of 49 seats in the 100-seat Senate, but hope to flip control of the upper chamber in the upcoming election. The party has to defend just 11 seats, compared to 23 for Democrats, and is especially targeting seats held by Democrats in red states such as the seat held by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

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