By MICHELLE L. PRICE
Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he will not run for reelection in 2024, creating a wide-open contest in a state that heavily favors Republicans and is expected to attract a crowded field.
Romney, a former presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts, made the announcement in a video statement. The 76-year-old said the country is ready for new leadership.
“Frankly, it’s time for a new generation of leaders,” he said. “They’re the ones that need to make the decisions that will shape the world they will be living in.”
Romney noted that he would be in his mid-80s at the end of another six-year Senate term. While he didn’t directly reference the ages of President Joe Biden, 80, or former President Donald Trump, 77, who are the leaders for their parties’ 2024 presidential nominations, he accused both men of not responding enough to the growing national debt, climate change and other long-term issues.
He is the sixth incumbent senator to announce plans to retire after the end of the term in 2025, joining Republican Mike Braun of Indiana and Democrats Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Dianne Feinstein of California and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
Romney easily won election in reliably GOP Utah in 2018 but was expected to face more resistance from his own party after he emerged as one of the most visible members to break with Trump, who is still the party’s de-facto leader.
Romney in 2020 became the first senator in U.S. history to vote to convict a president from their own party in an impeachment trial. Romney was the only Republican to vote against Trump in his first impeachment and one of seven to vote to convict him in the second.
Trump was acquitted by the Senate both times.
Romney was booed by a gathering of the Utah Republican Party’s most active members months after his vote at the second impeachment trial, and a measure to censure him narrowly failed. Members of the party even flung the term “Mitt Romney Republican” at their opponents on the campaign trail in 2022’s midterm elections.
Still, Romney has been seen as broadly popular in Utah, which has long harbored a band of the party that’s favored civil conservatism and resisted Trump’s brash and norm-busting style of politics.
The state is home to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project; the anti-Trump Republican Evan McMullin, who launched a longshot 2016 presidential campaign; and GOP Gov. Spencer Cox, who has been critical of Trump and is also up for reelection in 2024.
More than a majority of the state’s population are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The faith arrived in the western state with pioneers fleeing religious persecution and spread globally with the religion’s missionaries, a legacy that’s left the church’s conservative members embracing immigrants and refugees.
Romney, a Brigham Young University graduate and one of the faith’s most visible members after his 2012 presidential campaign, had been a popular figure in the state for two decades. He burnished his reputation there by turning around the bribery scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, making it a global showcase for Salt Lake City.
The wealthy former private equity executive served as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007. In 2006, Romney signed a health care law in Massachusetts that had some of the same core features as the 2010 federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama, who would go on to defeat Romney in the 2012 White House election.
During his presidential campaign, Romney struggled to shake the perception that he was out of touch with regular Americans. The image crystallized with his comment, secretly recorded at a fundraiser, that he didn’t worry about winning the votes of “47% of Americans” who “believe they are victims” and “pay no income tax.”
He moved to Utah after his defeat for the presidency.
In 2016, he made his first extraordinary break with Trump, delivering a scathing speech in Utah denouncing Trump, then a presidential candidate, as “a phony, a fraud” and who was unfit to be president.
After Trump won, Romney dined with Trump to discuss Romney becoming the president-elect’s secretary of state. Trump chose Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson instead.
Romney accepted Trump’s endorsement during the primary race for his 2018 Senate run but also pledged in an op-ed that year that he would “continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions.”