Romney Weak in Early Poll

Sen. Mitt Romney* (R) still hasn’t made a final decision about seeking a second term next year, and newly released polling data suggests he has reason to be concerned about his re-election prospects.

The survey research indicates that his path to winning another six-year term is rockier than one would expect for a GOP incumbent in what is typically a safe Republican state. Therefore, should polling continue to show weak results the retirement option could become more attractive.

A Noble Predictive Insights survey conducted a month ago but just released yesterday (7/7-18; 598 UT registered voters; 301 likely Republican primary voters; online) finds Sen. Romney drawing only 30% support among a respondent sample of his own Republican primary voters. The full respondent universe also rated him a with a slightly upside down job approval index. While 46% approved of his performance in the Senate, 47% disapproved. 

Looking deeper into the crosstabs, we see the Senator’s hard positive on the job approval question paired with his hard negative at 15:24%. The latter figure being the considerably higher number is a bad sign for any incumbent because it suggests voter intensity with respect to his prospects is inverted. Additionally, when asked of the entire sample whether they believe Sen. Romney should run for re-election, 39% answered affirmatively, while 44% replied with a negative response.

Despite his low Republican primary preference number, Sen. Romney still leads a group of potential GOP opponents. Closest to him is Attorney General Sean Reyes, an unannounced Senate candidate, who posted 13% support. The two official candidates, state House Speaker Brad Wilson (R-Kaysville) and Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs posted 5 & 3%, respectively. 

Others, such as Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson (R), who have not indicated they are considering becoming a Senate candidate, were also included on the ballot test but they had little effect upon the overall result.

In addition to deciding about whether to run again, the question of whether to participate in the Republican nominating convention also looms large. Under the Utah election system, a candidate can qualify for the ballot in one of two ways. The first is to secure more than 40% support from the state convention delegates. The second is to qualify through petition. For a statewide race, a petitioning candidate must obtain 28,000 verified Republican registered voter signatures. It is permissible to pursue both qualification options.

Considering the strong conservative tenure among Utah Republican convention delegates, Sen. Romney, straying from the party position on some key issues and continuing an open feud with the leading Republican presidential candidate, probably means he is an underdog to secure 40% among the voting delegates. Therefore, to avoid embarrassment from a poor convention result, thus showing verifiable weakness within his own party, Romney’s wiser course of action would likely be to pursue the signature option. 

Sen. Romney choosing the petition route, however, guarantees that the convention first place finisher will advance into the primary as the official party endorsed candidate, again a poor sign when someone other than the incumbent earns such a designation.

Utah is also one of the states where the No Labels Party has qualified for the ballot. Since the state often features a strong minor party or independent candidate line an interesting three-way general election could conceivably develop. 

In the 2022 election cycle that featured Sen. Mike Lee (R) running for re-election, the Democrats decided to coalesce with Independent Evan McMullen and did not field their own candidate. The Democratic leadership correctly reasoned that Sen. Lee would be most likely to win a three-way race before a conservative Utah electorate. Therefore, the convention delegates agreed to form the coalition with McMullen.

It is unlikely the Utah Democratic Party would forego fielding their own candidate in 2024. Sen. Lee still defeated McMullen by a double-digit margin even though the result was a bit closer than what we would typically expect. The Democrats returning to a traditional party role means the potential of a 2024 three-way Senate general election becomes greater.

Sen. Romney says he will make a re-election decision this Autumn. Regardless of what he decides, the Utah Senate race could attract much more national attention than originally expected.

*denotes candidate received an AGC PAC contribution during the 2023-2024 election cycle. 

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