A tale of two senators: Lee & Romney are very different, but both need to shore up support

Mike Lee and Mitt Romney are both Republican U.S. senators representing Utah. But they hold very different views on key issues, and it’s worth considering both of their re-election prospects. 

Lee is up for re-election next year for a third term, and polling shows he has work to do to win majority support of Utah voters. Romney’s first re-election (or retirement) comes two years later, in 2024, and he badly needs to work on his support among Republicans if he wants to win the GOP nomination.

Lee was swept into office in the 2010 Tea Party uprising when voters were disgusted with big government and Pres. Barack Obama’s agenda. Romney won election to the Senate in 2018 on the strength of his 2012 presidential run when he was the GOP nominee. As an adopted favorite son, he won big in Utah, though lost to Obama nationally.

Lee and Romney make for an interesting pair. They do agree on some things. By outward appearances, they seem to get along personally. They are careful not to criticize each other. They sometimes issue joint press releases on Utah-related issues. They both deplore deficit spending and are both critical of the Biden administration’s botched departure from Afghanistan.

But Romney detested former Pres. Donald Trump (and still does) and voted to convict him in a Senate trial, while Lee was a strong defender of the president. Romney is a key champion of the $1.2 trillion bi-partisan infrastructure bill, while Lee has been an outspoken opponent.

Romney is viewed as one of a handful Senate moderates who will sometimes vote with the Democrats on major legislation, while Lee is a strong, solid conservative who is usually a safe GOP vote on partisan legislation. Romney is greatly disliked by arch-conservatives, especially commentators on Fox News, while strong conservatives love Lee and he is frequently sought for comment on Fox News.

Politically, each has strengths and weaknesses. Recent polling done by OH Predictive Insights shows Romney with a 49% favorability rating among Utah voters; Lee trails a bit with a 47% favorability rating.

However, among Republican voters, Lee enjoys a healthy 65% rating, while Romney has support of only 49% of Republican voters. To win a general election, Lee and Romney will first need to win the GOP nomination (unless Romney should choose to seek re-election as an independent).  

Lee faces some legitimate challengers for the GOP nomination, although GOP candidates like Becky Edwards and Ally Isom are not well-known enough in this early part of the race to show much strength in the polls.  Romney, if he seeks re-election, is also expected to attract some serious opponents for the GOP nomination.

I wouldn’t bet against either Lee or Romney in their re-election contests. If they win the GOP nomination, there’s no Democrat who can defeat them.

Certainly, they shouldn’t take anything for granted, and they will need to campaign hard. A recent OH Predictive Insights poll showed Lee with 45 percent support among GOP voters, far ahead of his challengers. However, 48% of GOP voters were undecided, which isn’t great news for Lee.

Romney has time to boost his support among Republican voters. However, if Trump returns to the political scene and Romney remains a vocal antagonist, his re-election chances could be hurt.

But incumbents have real advantages over little-known challengers. And it’s entirely possible Utah voters kind of like having both a strong conservative and a moderate in the Senate – even if they sometimes cancel out each other’s vote.