AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
With Mitt Romney opting not to seek re-election to the Senate this year, conservatives throughout the country are hopeful that Utah voters will elect a strong candidate who avoids Romney’s nasty habit of caving to the left.
But the current leading GOP candidate is U.S. House Member John Curtis – another Republican with a long history of betraying conservative causes whom Romney reportedly encouraged to enter the race.
Representative Curtis began his political career as a Democrat before switching his registration to Republican in 2006. According to a profile from Deseret News, Curtis served a year as the Utah County Democratic Party Chairman from 2002 to 2003 and has repeatedly referred to himself as a “Utah Democrat.”
Curtis also reportedly staffed his office with Democrats when he was elected mayor of Provo – an alarming sign for Utahans as they consider sending him to represent them in the Senate.
Given former President Donald Trump’s strong performance in Utah in 2016 and 2020, many Republicans in the state are likely eager for a senator who prioritizes working with a Republican president to advance a conservative agenda. But since his election to represent Utah’s 3rd Congressional District in 2016, Curtis has been one of former President Trump’s most vocal critics on the Republican side of the aisle, and even voted to censure Trump in 2021. In a video posted to his YouTube page in 2019, Curtis said it was “no secret” that he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016.
Another major red flag for Republican voters is Curtis’s continued embrace of the left’s climate change hysteria.
In an interview with NPR, Curtis suggested that conservatives are “science deniers” for refusing to embrace liberal climate policies. He also formed the “Conservative Climate Caucus” in the U.S. House and joined with Democrats to sponsor legislation “to streamline the federal response to climate hazards,” blaming wildfires in Utah on manmade climate change and calling it a “serious threat.”
A report from The Daily Caller has also raised concerns about Curtis’s history of suspicious stock trading. The Caller found that Curtis made “several well-timed stock trades during events such as the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the banking crisis earlier this year,” reaping large returns well above the market average.
Curtis initially said that he had no intention of running for Romney’s seat, categorically stating in an op-ed last October that he would be “staying the course in the House.” He also claimed that he has “never liked career politicians” but “saw that I had become one.”
Just one month later, however, Curtis announced that he was “reconsidering” his decision to not run for Senate. He officially launched his campaign on January 3.
At least some of that decision may be due to influence from the retiring Mitt Romney. Curtis told the Salt Lake Tribune that “personal conversations” with several other U.S. Senators convinced him to change his mind about running. One of those senators, according to multiple sources who spoke with the Tribune, was Romney.
For Utahans weary from six years in which their junior senator acted as a thorn in the side of President Donald Trump and then backed some of Joe Biden’s worst legislation, the prospect of Romney hand-picking a successor in his ideological mold is an alarming one indeed.
Romney was notably among a contingent of Republican Senators who backed Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure law, voted to convict Trump during Democrats’ second spurious impeachment effort, supported Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown-Jackson to the Supreme Court, and helped Democrats undermine traditional marriage. If he now believes that Curtis is the best bet to carry on this legacy, Utah conservatives should be extremely cautious.
But with a very crowded primary field (12 candidates have declared so far) Curtis’s big money backers could have enormous sway.
A few other names to pay attention to as potential alternatives to Curtis are Brent Hatch, Carolyn Phippen, and Brad Wilson.
Hatch, the son of the late Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, has deep ties in the state and would enjoy strong name ID. He previously worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and currently works as an attorney in Utah.
Phippen is a former staffer of Utah’s other senator, Mike Lee – who, unlike Romney, has a strong reputation for upholding conservative principles. She is a mother of five with a long career in political consulting.
Wilson, the former speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, is perhaps the strongest challenger to Curtis. He raised more than $1 million from donors before even announcing his bid, proving that he has the fundraising prowess to take on Curtis’s money machine. Wilson also has a strong history of supporting conservative policies in the Utah House that would contrast sharply with Curtis’s record.
With more than five months to go until Utah’s GOP primary on June 25, the race is far from decided.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on X @ShaneHarris513.