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Curtis enters GOP race to fill Romney seat in Utah

On some key votes, House member and retiring senator voted opposite ways

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, leaves the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on July 20, 2022.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, leaves the Capitol Hill Club in Washington on July 20, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Utah Rep. John Curtis is running for Senate, joining what is shaping up to be a competitive Republican primary for the seat left vacant by Sen. Mitt Romney’s decision not to run again.

“We need to get America back on track. I’ll keep fighting Joe Biden’s reckless spending. I’ll work to make America not just energy independent, but energy dominant. That’s good for our economy, our security, and our pocketbooks,” Curtis said in a video announcing his campaign Wednesday, which also touched on the southern border and relations with China. “As your senator, I’ll work hard every day to make Utah an even better place.”

Curtis, who was elected to the House in a 2017 special election and said in the fall that he would not run to succeed Romney, told KSL-TV that he realized he could continue the work he’s done in the House with a bigger platform if elected to the Senate. 

“The second I made the announcement that I was not going to run, I started to have people reach out to me asking me to reconsider,” he told the outlet

A former Provo mayor, Curtis has made energy policy a focal point of his congressional tenure. He’s a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and is a founder and co-chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus. He has sought to decrease the partisanship around climate change. 

Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a right-leaning environmental group that advocates for clean energy solutions such as nuclear power, endorsed Curtis on Wednesday.

“CRES thanks Rep. Curtis for his leadership and proudly endorses him for the United States Senate, where he will undoubtedly continue his work leading Republicans to engage and support commonsense policies to produce more affordable, reliable, and clean American-made energy,” Heather Reams, the group’s president, said in a statement. 

American Conservation Coalition Action, another conservative conservation group, also backed Curtis’ bid for Senate. 

Curtis announced his campaign as the weeklong filing period began Tuesday. Brad Wilson, the former state House speaker, is running, as is Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, Roosevelt Mayor Rod Bird Jr., and Brent Orrin Hatch, an attorney and son of former Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Other candidates who have filed to run include independent Robert Newcomb, Republicans Chandler Tanner and Clark White and Democrat Archie Williams, according to a state website

Wilson led the field in fundraising at the end of September, and had $2.8 million on hand after loaning his campaign $1.8 million. Bird reported raising $67,000 and loaned his campaign another $1million, while Staggs had $438,000 in the bank after loaning his campaign $50,000. Curtis had $449,000 in his House campaign account at the end of the third quarter of last year.  

Wilson has touted an endorsement from GOP Gov. Spencer Cox. The campaign circulated a new statement from Cox on Wednesday, praising Wilson as a “true conservative” who passed “the largest tax cut in state history.”

Democrats haven’t made Utah’s Senate seat, which is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, a target so far this year, making the race for the Republican nomination the likely bigger contest. In Utah, delegates typically pick a party nominee at a convention, but the state also holds a primary. In 2018, Romney fell short of the threshold needed to win the nomination at a party convention and also ran on the primary ballot. 

Curtis, Romney split at times

Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee who became the only Republican to vote to impeach President Donald Trump twice, grew more out of step with his party over the last few years. In 2019, when the GOP had the majority, Romney voted with his party 97 percent of the time on votes that split Democrats and Republicans, according to CQ Vote Studies. But in 2022, when Democrats controlled the chamber, that party unity score fell to 67 percent.

Curtis, meanwhile, voted with his party 96 percent of the time in 2019 and 92 percent of the time in 2022. 

Both voted with Trump 95 percent of the time in 2019 and Curtis actually voted with Trump less frequently than Romney did in 2020, when Romney voted in line with Trump’s position 93 percent of the time and Curtis did so 81 percent of the time.

In the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency, Romney voted for the Biden position 50 percent of the time in 2021 and 46 percent of the time in 2022, while Curtis did so 17 percent of the time in 2021 and 26 percent of the time in 2022. Votes for Biden nominees on which Romney joined Democrats when a majority of Republicans voted “no” would increase Romney’s presidential support score. Curtis would not cast a corresponding vote since the House does not confirm nominees.

Curtis opposed the impeachments Romney supported. He also opposed bills Romney supported that expanded background checks for people buying guns and making changes to the electoral count procedures. 

With Curtis’ decision to run for Senate, Utah’s 3rd District seat will also be open. Republican Stewart Peay, a former chair of the Utah County GOP, and Democrat Glenn Wright have both filed to run for the seat. 

State Sen. Mike Kennedy previously formed an exploratory committee to consider running for the seat. 

David Jordan contributed to this report.

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