All current Republican senators apparently support Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s bid for reelection, except one.
Sen. Mitt Romney’s name is noticeably absent from the list of 48 senators Lee posted on his campaign Twitter account Friday.
“I am grateful for the support of my Senate colleagues. Together, we will continue the fight for the American people. The failures of the Biden Administration and Democrats have damaged our nation for long enough,” Lee tweeted.
Lee’s tweet does not use the word endorsement but rather support.
Matt Lusty, Lee’s campaign spokesman, said all of the senators on the list have publicly endorsed Lee, donated to his campaign or expressed support for his reelection.
“All of those people are supportive of Sen. Lee,” he said.
A big reason for that backing is the GOP’s drive to regain control of the Senate. Lee is engaged in a heated campaign against independent Evan McMullin. Losing Lee would deal a serious blow to that effort.
Henry Olsen, a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, called Romney’s refusal to endorse Lee a betrayal of the Republican Party.
“It should be a no-brainer for Romney to endorse his fellow Republican. Regaining control of the Senate is one of the GOP’s most important objectives, and that means marshaling every conceivable vote to make that happen,” he wrote in a column in March.
The Senate is made up of 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. McMullin has said he would not caucus with either party if elected.
Earlier this year, Romney said he might not publicly back any of the candidates in the Senate race in Utah, and he has stuck to that. Lee had two GOP challengers at the time, and McMullin had not yet won the backing of the Utah Democratic Party. Romney has said that McMullin and Lee are his friends.
“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 said in March.
Romney said then that he’s not sure anyone is anxious for his support, adding, “I’m not sure my endorsement is a plus or a minus, so maybe that’s why no one is asking.”
McMullin told Politico he “greatly appreciates” Romney’s neutrality in the race. He often points to Romney as the type of senator Utah and the country needs to find bipartisan solutions to issues.
McMullin pointed out Romney’s absence from the list in a tweet Friday, saying Lee is “more concerned with keeping the support of his DC buddies than doing right by Utahns. Noticeably missing? Support from Sen. Romney.”
Romney’s office did not respond to a request of comment on Friday.
In general, senators are more likely to endorse co-partisans, and the choice not to endorse a co-partisan reflects a lack of enthusiasm for the candidate or, alternatively, feeling torn between several plausible candidates in the case of an open seat, Chris Karopwitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, told the Deseret News earlier.
“In this case, Romney’s choice not to endorse an incumbent Republican likely reflects the fact that he and Mike Lee have different bases of support among voters and different visions for the future of the Republican Party,” he said.
Romney and Lee have been on the opposite sides of several major votes, including the Donald Trump impeachment trials, infrastructure bill and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
But the two senators have been together on other issues such as voting against the Inflation Reduction Act and condemning President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan.
Correction: An earlier version of the photo caption on this story misidentified Sen. Mitt Romney as Mike Romney.