April 17, 2012 - 12:47 pm

BY WESLEY P. HESTER

With no fanfare or promotion, Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen seemed to quietly endorse former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Monday night at a meeting of the Northern Virginia Young Republicans Meeting in Arlington.

“I hope to be in the U.S. Senate and I hope Mitt Romney’s our next president,” Allen said at the gathering.

Previously, Allen’s campaign had said the former governor who is looking to win back the senate seat he lost in 2006 would not make an endorsement in the presidential primary.

Romney is now the presumptive nominee after former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a close friend of Allen’s in the senate, dropped out of the race last week.

Allen’s campaign has not yet released any formal endorsement, but spokeswoman Katie Wright said Tuesday: “The statement speaks for itself, he hopes to earn the right to serve Virginia in the U.S. Senate and he hopes that Mitt Romney is our next President.”

The presidential race in Virginia, a critical swing state, will likely play a crucial role in the U.S. Senate race. Allen and Republicans have spent more than a year tying Democratic nominee Timothy M. Kaine to President Barack Obama.

Kaine, a former governor and friend of the president’s, served as Democratic National Committee chairman until he entered the race last year.

Allen is the front-runner for the GOP nomination but faces competition from Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, Chesterfield County tea party leader Jamie Radtke and Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson.

A series of Republican debates begins next weekend in Roanoke.

Democrats leapt at the soft endorsement, asking where Allen stood on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a law that helps women hold accountable employers who discriminate in the pay practices based on gender.

Romney said in an interview last night that he would not alter the bill, but declined to say whether he would have signed it.

“Allen should explain why he finds it easier to endorse Mitt Romney than he does standing up for the basic concept that women should receive equal pay for equal work,” said Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond.

Democrats are hoping to maintain the wide advantage they now enjoy here and across the country with women.