SALT LAKE CITY — As Sen. Mitt Romney announced Wednesday that he would not seek re-election, young Republicans labeled the move as wise while longtime political observers said both parties were now faced with tough questions about the future of their leadership.
Romney, R-Utah, said he would be in his mid-80s at the end of another term and he suggested others in Washington should consider not running again as well.
“I think it would be a great thing if both President Biden and former President Trump were to stand aside and let their parties pick someone in the next generation,” Romney told reporters. “Just having a bunch of guys who were around—the Baby Boomers who were around in the post-war era—we’re not the right ones to be making decisions for tomorrow.”
Even Republicans who have struggled to find agreement with Romney took little issue with the idea of a changing of the guard.
“I think we need a new, young leadership—especially in the Republican Party,” said Tyler Boyles, president of College Republicans at the University of Utah. “There are a lot of people who have been in Washington for a long time. They’re really out of touch with what younger voters are looking for in a candidate or senator.”
Boyles listed the economy, inflation, debt and the environment as issues he viewed as important for the next senator from Utah to address.
“I think debt is one of the top issues of all, getting the economy back,” Boyles said. “For us college kids, there’s a lot going on and for us to afford gas at this high of a price and all of these different economic issues, I mean, I think the next candidate needs to be really in touch with that.”
Tim Chambless, associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, said names of potentially younger candidates were already surfacing, including Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs who is already running and Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson who has established an exploratory committee.
“The average age in America is 38 and in Utah, it’s younger than 32,” Chambless said. “Fact is America is a relatively young nation, so you can see why Sen. Romney would express concern.”
Chambless said Romney’s announcement and comments would likely face both parties with some difficult questions.
“Certainly within the Democratic Party, the number one concern among Democrats is that (President) Joe Biden at his age might be just a little too old—we start to slow down as we get older,” Chambless said. “That issue of dementia is before us because look at (Senate Minority Leader) Mitchell McConnell at age 81 having ‘freezing moments,’ maybe they’re seizures—we’re not sure. Dianne Feinstein, longest serving woman in the U.S. Senate, age 90, having to be told how to vote by staff—those are concerns we see on the Senate side, both parties.”
Chambless also said Romney not seeking re-election improved the odds that a big-name Democrat might challenge for the open seat, though he noted a Democrat had not won a Senate race in Utah in over 50 years.
“There’s the potential that Democrats could nominate somebody who is dynamic, who is well-known, who has money—can self-finance—who would be a viable candidate against a divided Republican Party,” Chambless said.