Don’t expect Mitt Romney to take sides in U.S. Senate race

Romney says he considers Republican Mike Lee and independent candidate Evan McMullin friends, so he’ll keep his distance.

(Shawn Thew | Pool) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, questions witnesses during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Sen. Mitt Romney says he’ll probably stay on the sidelines in Sen. Mike Lee’s bid for a third term in Washington.

Six Republicans are challenging Lee for the nomination this year. Former state Rep. Becky Edwards submitted signatures to qualify for a spot in the GOP primary on Tuesday. Lee and Ally Isom are also gathering signatures. Evan Barlow, Loy Brunson, Jeremy Friedbaum and Laird Hamblin are hoping to secure a spot in the primary through the convention route.

Former presidential candidate Evan McMullin entered the race as an independent candidate. Democrat Kael Weston is the lone Democrat in the race. Some prominent Democrats, including former Rep. Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, are behind an effort to keep Weston off the ballot with the hopes of setting up a one-on-one race between Lee and McMullin.

Romney told Politico he considers Lee and McMullin friends, so he’ll likely keep his distance this year.

Lee has a significant fundraising lead over his rivals so far and is ramping up those efforts. He hosted Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem for a fundraiser in Salt Lake City last week. The latest campaign finance reports show Lee with more than $2 million in cash on hand, but McMullin outraised the Republican incumbent by nearly 2-1 in the last three months of 2021.

Polling shows Lee remains the favorite in the race. A recent survey of registered Republican voters from OH Predictive Insights gave Lee 51% support in a hypothetical primary matchup. Edwards had 5%, and Isom had 2%, but 37% of voters were still undecided.