Utah Dems Make Rare Move in Bid to Defeat Mike Lee

They nominate an independent, Evan McMullin, to face the GOP senator
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 24, 2022 6:30 AM CDT
Utah Democrats Make Rare Move in Bid to Defeat Mike Lee
Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, walks onto stage to give his candidacy speech during the GOP Convention at the Mountain America Convention Center in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday, April 23, 2022.   (Adam Fondren/The Deseret News via AP)

(Newser) – Utah Democrats pulling hard to defeat Republican Sen. Mike Lee took the unusual step Saturday of spurning a party hopeful to instead get behind an independent—former presidential candidate Evan McMullin. Democrats were swayed by calls from prominent members who said McMullin was the best chance to beat Lee in the deeply conservative state that hasn't elected a Democratic US senator for more than 50 years, per the AP. McMullin, who captured a significant share of the vote in Utah in 2016, bills himself as a non-traditional conservative. “I want to represent you. I’m committed to that. I will maintain my independence,” McMullin told Democratic delegates.

Lee faced two GOP challengers at his own party's nominating convention, and he handily won with over 70% of the vote. The senator's relationship with former President Trump has been front and center since CNN reported on text messages showing that the senator was involved in early efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, though Lee later pivoted and voted to confirm the election results after no widespread fraud emerged. “I did my job,” Lee said about the messages. “I did my job the way that I’ve always promised I would go about doing my job.”

McMullin is a former CIA officer who ran for president in 2016 and made inroads in the deeply conservative state where where many GOP voters had reservations about then-candidate Trump. Lee himself cast a protest vote for McMullin, though he later became a staunch Trump ally, and the former president has endorsed him. A Democrat ran for the nomination, Kael Weston, but the pro-McMullin camp ultimately won. “I know Evan. I trust Evan," former Congressman Ben McAdams told delegates during the contentious debate, framing McMullin as the best possible chance to unseat Lee. (Utah political icon Orrin Hatch died over the weekend.)

(Read more Mike Lee stories.)

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