Washington • Conservatives will start flocking to presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Sen. Mike Lee predicted Sunday as he offered his endorsement to the man he believes will be the best Republican to take on President Barack Obama.
"This is a pretty critical year," Lee said in an interview. "There are big decisions for the country to make and ... I think we would be well-advised as Republicans to start getting behind our eventual nominee."
Lee, the last of Utah's Republicans in Congress to formally endorse Romney, said the time has come for conservatives to rally behind the former Massachusetts governor and start creating the national effort to oust Obama.
While Romney lost the Louisiana GOP primary to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum on Saturday, Romney has won more delegates toward the nomination than all his rivals combined, and it's becoming mathematically impossible for the other Republican contenders to clinch the nomination before the national convention.
Romney welcomed the endorsement.
"Mike has been fighting on the frontlines to repeal Obamacare and restore fiscal sanity in Washington," Romney said in a statement to The Tribune. "I will need the support and hard work of leaders like him if we are going to be successful in shrinking the federal government and restoring America's promise of freedom and prosperity. I am honored to have Mike's support and look forward to his advice in the coming months."
Lee, a member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus, met with Romney last week but didn't offer his endorsement in the meeting, the senator said.
"I think we're now reaching the point where we can see prolonging this process further could undermine our ability to get a Republican candidate elected, and it could also distract from getting our Senate candidates elected," Lee said.
Lee has backed several Republican newcomers in Senate races, hoping to help like-minded conservatives to Congress.
The senator lauded Romney's backing of the Republican Study Committee's Cut, Cap and Balance proposal, a pledge that the country will not raise its borrowing authority without first cutting spending and passing a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.
Sen. Orrin Hatch and Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz previously endorsed Romney.