President Trump has reportedly narrowed his list of Supreme Court nominees to three conservative judges, but supporters of Sen. Mike Lee are not yet writing off the Utah Republican as a long-shot candidate.
According to news reports, federal appelllate judges Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Raymond Kethledge are now the frontrunners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's reliable swing vote for the last three decades.
Trump has interviewed several more potential nominees, including Lee, who's office confirmed the senator spoke with the president on Monday.
“He’s still sort of the dark horse in the race," said Boyd Matheson, opinion editor at the Deseret News and Lee’s former chief of staff.
Among Lee’s strengths, Matheson said, is his repoire with Democratic colleagues like Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Cory Booker, who’ve worked with Lee on bipartisan legislation addressing criminal justice reform.
“He does have sort of an inside track in terms of confirmability because he has very unique relationships inside the Senate with Senate Democrats," said Matheson.
That could make it harder for those Democrats, several of whom sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to vote against Lee, Matheson said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is also backing Lee for the high court. In an op-ed published Thursday for Fox News, Cruz wrote that no other candidate would excite conservative voters this November like Lee.
"Sen. Lee was made for this moment," wrote Cruz.
Lee and his brother, Thomas Lee, a justice on the Utah Supreme Court, were included on a longer list of 25 potential Supreme Court candidates that Trump released during his presidential campaign to woo conservative voters worried that he wouldn't pick someone conservative enough.
Despite Lee's own interest in the position, he no longer appears to be one of President Trump's top choices.
"If I were laying money on it in Vegas, Amy would get my vote," said RonNell Andersen Jones, a law professor at the University of Utah, of judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Speaking to RadioWest on Monday, Jones said Barrett, a devout Catholic, has become a favorite of conservatives who hope the next court nominee may help overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to an abortion.
"I think it's appealing in some quadrants to the extent that Roe is on the line — to the extent that there is some thought that there is someone who overturns Roe — the idea that a conservative woman might be the person doing that might be appealing," she said.