Who do Utah Republicans want to replace Mitt Romney?

DJ Kimball plays in the sand with his daughter Margaret at Fort Utah Park in Provo on June 4. The heavily Republican state of Utah will likely decide its next U.S. senator on June 25 in the hotly contested primary election to replace Sen. Mitt Romney.

DJ Kimball plays in the sand with his daughter Margaret at Fort Utah Park in Provo on June 4. The heavily Republican state of Utah will likely decide its next U.S. senator on June 25 in the hotly contested primary election to replace Sen. Mitt Romney. (Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — The heavily Republican state of Utah will likely decide its next U.S. senator on June 25 in the hotly contested GOP primary election to replace Sen. Mitt Romney.

The Beehive State's first competitive Republican race for an open Senate seat in three decades has flooded media markets with ads, swamped voters with national talking points and even attracted the endorsement of the party's 2024 presidential nominee.

Polling and fundraising metrics show 3rd District Rep. John Curtis in the lead. But it remains unclear how a near-plurality of undecided voters will tilt the four-way competition to the Senate hopefuls, which also include former state House Speaker Brad Wilson, Moxie Pest Control CEO Jason Walton and Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs, who won the state GOP nominating convention among party delegates.

Campaign numbers and survey results are quantitative measures of what is reaching, and resonating with, Utahns. But what are undecided voters saying about what matters most to them in this election?

The Deseret News moderated a group discussion with seven self-identified Republican voters who remained mostly undecided and who said they plan to vote in the 2024 Senate primary. Participants joining over video call represented different parts of the state, different work backgrounds and different flavors of conservatism.

This qualitative look revealed something that unites politically engaged but persuadable voters. Focus group members said they were hungry for Utah representation that stands firm on Republican Party principles and stands out on consensus building.

The participants also found general agreement on the impact of Staggs' endorsement from former President Donald Trump. The stamp of approval changed no one's mind in favor of the candidate. Instead, it had a negative or neutral impact on this group in influencing who they will vote for.

What kind of senator do Utah Republicans want?

Nothing matters more in navigating the gravity, and garbage, of national politics than good character, according to Daniel "DJ" Kimball.

As a teacher at West Desert High School — one of Utah's smallest schools, located in unincorporated Partoun, Juab County — Kimball has taught enough about the Constitution to know the nation's founding required "huge compromise" — and the character to back it up. "And I think that's something that needs to be happening in our government today."

Kimball, who teaches social studies when not teaching science, Portuguese or P.E., said his "No. 1″ qualification for Utah's next senator is that they be a "moral individual" who is willing to "choose what they feel is right" even if that means losing points in the "political game."

DJ Kimball poses for a portrait at Fort Utah Park in Provo on June 4. The heavily Republican state of Utah will likely decide its next U.S. senator on June 25 in the hotly contested primary election to replace Sen. Mitt Romney.
DJ Kimball poses for a portrait at Fort Utah Park in Provo on June 4. The heavily Republican state of Utah will likely decide its next U.S. senator on June 25 in the hotly contested primary election to replace Sen. Mitt Romney. (Photo: Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

"That's one thing I liked about Mitt Romney," Kimball said.

"I think our political climate now is really good at villainizing the opposition," he continued. "I'd like to have a candidate in there that treats especially those who disagree with them as people."

Barbara McCaskey, a retired resident of Daybreak and former Delta Airlines employee, also sees Romney as an example — but of what she doesn't want.

"I'm just happy as a clam to see Mitt Romney leave," McCaskey said. "I just don't feel like he represented the people of the state of Utah." While undecided in Utah's Senate race, McCaskey said she "could go for another Mike Lee," someone she says abides by the party platform.

The view was shared by Herriman City Council member Sherrie Ohrn who has "pretty much retired" from her wedding decorating and horse riding businesses to "watch a lot of grandkids." Ohrn said she is tired of politicians who run as Republicans but embody the label in name only.

"I would like the next Republican that gets elected to actually follow what the charter is for the Republican Party," Ohrn said. "If you don't want to stand for that, and don't want to believe in that, and you want to tweak it here and there, then don't run as a Republican."

But campaign promises can be an unreliable means of judging electoral effectiveness, said David Terry, who has worked in all 29 of Utah's counties helping energy and mineral extraction businesses obtain land titles. After some research, Terry concluded the four GOP Senate candidates' platforms were mostly indistinguishable from one another.

"I think in a senator I try to look at qualities of the person and their ability to collaborate with other people," Terry said. But, he clarified, this doesn't mean he wants a representative who will "go off and, as a lone person, cooperate with the Democrats."

What Utah needs is an "elder statesman," according to Terry, someone like former Utah Sen. Jake Garn, whose 20 years of Senate service were noted by strongly held conservative views paired with an equally strong commitment to civility.

"When we think about those older senators, or our historic senators and congressmen that made a difference, I don't think of specific issues, but more that they seem to be kind of in the right place at the right time and on the right positions, and able to build consensus with other senators to get things done that way," Terry said.

Read the full story at Deseret News.

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Brigham Tomco
Brigham Tomco covers Utah’s congressional delegation for the national politics team at the Deseret News. A Utah native, Brigham studied journalism and philosophy at Brigham Young University. He enjoys podcasts, historical nonfiction and going to the park with his wife and two boys.

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