Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney smiles as he greets supporters at his election night rally in Schaumburg, Ill., Tuesday, March 20, 2012. Romney won Illinois primary.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee ended his presidential endorsement holdout, announcing over the weekend he intends to support fellow Mormon and Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

"I think the time has come for Republicans to get behind the nominee," Lee said Monday. "Mitt Romney is our nominee."

The freshman senator was the last GOP member of Utah's congressional delegation to get behind the former Massachusetts governor. Sen. Orrin Hatch and Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz threw their support behind Romney months ago.

Lee said he was focused on finding like-minded candidates through his Constitutional Conservative Fund PAC to run for the Senate. "I did not want to distract from that by getting into the presidential race," he said.

Romney, he said, is the Republican candidate who can defeat President Barack Obama in November.

"He has shown strong leadership," Lee said. "He is someone who will govern as a strong conservative in the White House."

Lee, a tea party leader in the Senate, said he's confident that Romney is guided by strong conservative principles and that as president he would seek to restore constitutionally limited government.

Romney understands that excessive government regulation stifles economic prosperity, Lee said, adding Romney was the first GOP presidential candidate to support the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act, a conservative approach to fiscal sustainability. 

Romney said Lee's endorsement comes at an important time in his campaign.

"Mike is one of the leading conservatives in the country and has fought tirelessly for the principles of limited government, individual liberty, and constitutional conservatism. His counsel will be important as we work to repeal Obamacare and restore fiscal responsibility," Romney said in a statement.

E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: dennisromboy