Is Utah’s U.S. Senate race getting too close for comfort for incumbent Republican Mike Lee? The latest sign Lee may be feeling the heat came during a Tuesday appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program, where he begged Sen. Mitt Romney to get behind his campaign to defeat independent candidate Evan McMullin.
“Please get on board. Help me win reelection,” Lee said between pleas for campaign donations.
Romney has so far refused to endorse either candidate in the contest. The former GOP presidential nominee says he considers both Lee and McMullin friends, which is why he’s staying out of the contest.
In September, Lee touted the endorsement of every Republican in the U.S. Senate. Romney’s name was notably absent from the list.
Lee said he understands Romney’s reluctance to issue an endorsement but urged him to get off the fence as control of the U.S. Senate may hang in the balance.
“I don’t think Mitt Romney wants Chuck Schumer to continue to be the Senate Majority Leader. That’s exactly what this will lead to if Utah is tricked into electing Evan McMullin, a closeted Democrat, into the United States Senate,” Lee said.
On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump jumped to Lee’s aid, saying Romney has “abused” Lee by not helping his fellow Republican.
“Mike Lee is an outstanding Senator who has been abused, in an unprecedented way, by a fellow Republican Senator from his own State, something which rarely has happened in Political history,” Trump said in a statement.
Trump said Romney’s refusal to help Lee was puzzling since Lee has performed his duties well.
“Mitt Romney is the Junior Senator from the Great State of Utah, which I won twice in a landslide, once by beating the candidate, Evan “McMuffin” McMullin, who is currently running against Senator Lee,” Trump said.
In 2016, Trump carried Utah with just 45.54% of the vote, the lowest percentage of all the states he won that year. In 2020, Trump won the state with 58% of the vote, the second-lowest winning margin for any Republican presidential nominee since Bob Dole carried the state with 54.3% in 1992.
In his statement, Trump said both McMullin and Romney do not “represent the values of Utah.” Romney received 72.6% of the vote against Barack Obama in 2012, the highest percentage of any Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan captured 74.5% in 1984.
“Mike Lee is outstanding and has my Complete and Total Endorsement. Mitt Romney and Evan McMuffin can count on the fact they will never have my endorsement!” Trump concluded.
Lee’s animosity toward McMullin is a recent development. In 2016, Lee cast a presidential ballot for McMullin over Republican nominee Donald Trump.
As polls suggest the gap between Lee and McMullin is narrowing, Lee’s rhetoric has grown increasingly intense. Recently he began accusing McMullin of being a Democrat in disguise because the Utah Democratic Party opted not to field a candidate in the race. He has also claimed, without evidence, that McMullin would caucus with Democrats if elected to the U.S. Senate. McMullin has said multiple times he would not caucus with either party.
Lee using a Fox News program to cajole Romney into helping him is a risk. Romney has been a frequent punching bag for Fox News hosts for not falling in line behind former President Donald Trump and voting to convict him in both of his impeachment trials.
Lee’s appearance was politically schizophrenic. As Lee was pleading for Romney’s help, Carlson was attacking Romney and his family for actively trying to sabotage Lee’s reelection chances.
“He is working against his fellow Republican Mike Lee in his reelection campaign,” Carlson said during the introduction to the segment.
Carlson later told Lee, “You may not be aware of it, but I believe it’s true that members of Mitt Romney’s immediate nuclear family are actively helping McMullin against you.”
Carlson did not offer any proof to support those claims.
During the segment, Carlson repeatedly referred to Romney as “Pierre Delecto,” the name he used for his secret Twitter account, and used a graphic showing Romney with a thin mustache wearing a beret while holding a loaf of French bread.
“This is a guy, Pierre Delecto, who marched with Black Lives Matter, which hates the nuclear family and endorsed riots. I think he’s gone insane,” Carlson said.
Lee used his appearance to urge Carlson’s viewers to donate to his campaign, claiming McMullin was raising millions of dollars from “progressive Democratic donors.”
“They’re hellbent on getting rid of me and replacing me with Evan McMullin,” Lee warned.
This is Lee’s toughest campaign since he defeated Tim Bridgewater in the 2010 Republican primary by just 4,607 votes. Lee won the 2010 general election by nearly 30 points and cruised to a second term in 2016 by more than 40 points.
Lee blamed the media for the rise in McMullin’s electoral fortunes, claiming they were in the bag for the independent candidate. He added Romney’s neutral stance was as good as an endorsement for his opponent.
“It’s not too late, Mitt. You can join the party. I welcome you to do so because otherwise you’ll 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,” Lee said.