Sen. Mike Lee pleaded with fellow Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney to endorse him and get his family to send money to his reelection campaign on Fox News Tuesday night.
“It’s not too late, Mitt. You can join the party,” Lee said on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“I’d welcome you to do so because otherwise you’d be stuck with two more years of Chuck Schumer being the leader and two more years of Joe Biden having unfettered rule over the United States Senate without any Republican backstop.”
Earlier this year, Romney said he considers Lee and independent challenger Evan McMullin friends and that he intended to remain neutral.
“I don’t think endorsements make any difference in a race to speak of. People in the race are my friends. I usually try and avoid situations where they’ve been friends. I may endorse and I may not, but I really haven’t given it any thought at this point,” he told Utah reporters in response to a question during a video press call in March.
Romney is the only current Republican senator who hasn’t endorsed or expressed support for Lee.
“He’s explained that he’s got two friends in this race,” Lee said. “When he first told me that, my reaction was, ‘Who’s the other friend?’”
A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released this week shows Lee and McMullin locked into a tight race, one marked by millions of dollars in outside spending.
Lee, who did not endorse Romney when he ran for Senate in 2018, said he likes Romney and doesn’t think he wants Schumer, D-N.Y., to continue as the Senate majority leader.
“If I’m right on that, then he needs to get on board because that’s exactly what he will be producing, that’s exactly what this will lead to if Utah gets tricked into electing Evan McMullin, a closeted Democrat, into the United States Senate,” Lee said.
McMullin, a former Republican, has said he won’t caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected.
On the campaign trail, McMullin often makes references to Romney’s ability to work across the aisle. He told the Deseret News in July that he sees himself teaming up with Romney on policies that benefit Utah and the nation, and would have far more influence than the state has now.
Carlson asked Lee why he couldn’t just call Romney and ask for his support.
“I’ve asked him,” Lee said. “I’m asking him right here again tonight, right now.”
Lee said he would “eagerly” accept Romney’s endorsement, adding the senator has a big family while encouraging them to contribute to his campaign.
“Please get on board. Help me win reelection. Help us do that. You can get your entire family to donate to me,” Lee said, citing his campaign website.
Carlson lampooned Romney throughout the segment, showing a photo of him superimposed with a beret and large mustache along with the words “Dirty Trickster Pierre Delecto Strikes Again.” He closed the interview with Lee noting Romney joined a Black Lives Matter march and saying, “I think he’s gone insane.”
Utah media doesn’t make McMullin answer any policy questions, and voters are being “duped” and “fooled” by him, Lee said.
“It doesn’t help to have tacit acquiescence, the tacit assistance of my Republican colleague from Utah,” Lee said.
Romney’s choice not to endorse an incumbent Republican likely reflects the fact that he and Lee have different bases of support among voters and different visions for the future of the GOP, said Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Elections at Brigham Young University.
And, he said, there’s no love lost between Romney and Lee.
Romney, he said, takes a very different approach to representing Utah than Lee. Lee cares about wielding influence in the conservative movement, while Romney is more focused on public policy and finding bipartisan solutions to issues, he said in a recent interview.
Lee is a far more “partisan warrior, ideological warrior” than Romney has been, Karpowitz said.
“That doesn’t mean Romney doesn’t have his own partisan commitments. It just means they take a very different approach to their jobs,” he said.
Romney is trying to appeal to Democrats, moderates and conservatives, he said, whereas Lee is running a campaign to activate and motivate the Republican base.