(Bloomberg) -- GOP Senator Mitt Romney of Utah said he won’t seek a second term, sidestepping a 2024 primary that would have tested his popularity with voters in a year that political foe Donald Trump vies to be the Republican standard bearer.
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Romney, 76, cited his age as a reason behind the decision.
“At the end of another term, I’d be in my mid-eighties,” he said in a statement. “Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders. They’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.”
In the Senate, Romney has demonstrated a strong independent streak. He’s the only Republican to vote to convict Trump in both of his impeachment trials. He was the sole Republican to break with Trump in the first trial in 2019, voting to convict him on a charge of abusing power by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to produce political dirt on Joe Biden.
Two years later, he was one of seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, citing Trump’s drive to overturn the 2020 election results as the spark that triggered the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.
Romney told reporters late Wednesday that while the GOP is now “in the shadow” of Trump, he holds out hope that more pragmatic Republicans like him will take back the party in the next decade.
Trump, he said, represents a “demagogue portion of the Republican party. I represent a smaller wing of the Republican party, I call it the wise wing of the Republican party. I don’t believe we’re going away.”
Romney was a member of the “gang” of 10 Republicans and Democrats who negotiated a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that cleared the Senate in 2021. While he takes conservative stances on many fiscal issues, he’s differed with GOP colleagues on other matters including immigration, supporting a path to citizenship for young adults brought to the US as children.
Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Romney told him he wants to spend more time with his family.
“I thank him for his service, and I’m also confident we’ll keep Utah’s seat red,” he said.
He said the party committee hasn’t decided yet whether it would endorse a primary candidate in that race.
Utah is heavily Republican and unlikely to play a role in determining which party controls the Senate next year. Democrats now have a 51-49 majority. Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said in May he would run in the Republican primary next June, and allies of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and former US Representative Jason Chaffetz also have told news organizations they might run.
If he enters the race, Reyes would be the most formidable contender and he’s one of Trump’s closest allies in the state. He’s had his controversies, though. In a move that drew consternation from a number of top Utah Republicans, Reyes backed Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 presidential election results. That included signing onto a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen GOP attorneys general seeking to overturn the results in key battleground states, an effort that failed.
Trump’s brash brand of populist conservatism has alienated many Mormons in Utah, who make up a majority of voters there. But Republicans in the state have shifted a bit toward Trump since his 2016 election.
The 2012 GOP presidential nominee and a former Massachusetts governor, Romney is a Mormon and Brigham Young University graduate who received considerable acclaim in Utah after he led Salt Lake City’s organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic games. He was credited with helping to save the games after a bribery scandal.
In 2018, he ran for the Senate after the retirement of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, winning his primary election with 73% of the vote. In the general election, he easily beat Democrat Jenny Wilson and three minor party candidates with about 63% of the vote.
Voters in the state were split over whether Romney should run again, according to a Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. The May 22-June 1 poll found that 41% of voters in the state approve of the job he’s doing while 49% say they disapprove and 10% of voters say they don’t know.
That approval rating is down 11 points since March. The June poll also found that 51% of Republican voters say they strongly or somewhat disapprove of Romney’s performance.
(Updates with comments from Romney, starting in sixth paragraph)
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