Utah: Can a former CIA independent oust an outgoing Republican senator? | 2022 US Midterm Elections

youtah is usually reliable Republican ground, but in this year’s midterm elections, a Senate race in the Mormon-dominated state could see a remarkable upheaval – and one that could hurt the Republican Party’s ambitions to stand. seize the Senate.

Independent challenger Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative who unsuccessfully ran for president against Donald Trump in 2016, is seeing his race narrow against Mike Lee, a two-time Republican incumbent who initially backed the legal challenge of Trump in the election, but then voted to certify it. .

An October poll, commissioned by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics, shows Lee with a four-point lead with 12% of voters still undecided.

Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, calls the Senate race the tightest Utah has seen in decades. The race is also unique in Utah history because it is not a traditional Republican vs. Democrat challenge.

“McMullin’s candidacy is an experiment and will be the ultimate test to see if a third-party challenger can truly defeat a well-known Republican in what has been a reliable red state,” Perry said.

McMullin never held public office. In addition to his service at the CIA, he advised the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives and was the senior policy director of the House Republican Conference. To win, Perry says McMullin will need to get nearly every Liberal voter, every Independent voter and most Moderate voters. The latest Hinckley poll showed McMullin pulling 42% from the moderates and 70% from the liberals.

Liberal thought leaders in the state, including conservation activists from the billion-dollar outdoor industry, endorsed McMullin.

“Lee thinks federal land ownership in Utah is hurting Utah’s economy. His opponent, Evan McMullin, understands the value of Utah’s public lands,” Black Diamond Equipment founder Peter Metcalf wrote in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Unlike McMullin’s growing moderate and liberal support, Lee “owns the conservative end of the political spectrum” due to his reputation as a “constant fiscal conservative”, Perry explained. His base is solid, he adds, and they show up. Lee’s campaign spokesman Matt Lusty says the incumbent senator still has a significant lead.

“Senator Lee knows how critical it is for Republicans to regain control of the Senate to push back against Biden’s disastrous agenda that is crushing Utah families with runaway spending and runaway inflation — but let’s be clear, Mike Lee leads this race,” Lusty said. . Lee’s campaign says McMullin is pulling the wool over the eyes of voters in the state by running as an independent but still receiving Democratic endorsements and funding.

“President Trump was much less popular in Utah than past Republican leaders and President Biden is not faring any better,” Perry said. “That’s why Lee is trying to make McMullin a Biden nominee and why McMullin is trying to tie Lee to Trump.”

Although Trump endorsed Lee, the incumbent senator strategically tried to distance himself from the former US president by claiming that he voted less in agreement with Trump than all Republican senators except Rand Paul and Susan Collins, reports the Associated Press.

Sen. Mike Lee gives former Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard a stuffed elephant as she campaigns for him at a rally Thursday in Draper, Utah. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Lee has secured a string of powerful Utah backers, including Governor Spencer Cox, but Senator Mitt Romney, known as a moderate Republican who works across party lines, is missing from that list.

Earlier this month on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Lee called McMullin a “hidden Democrat,” urged Romney to endorse him, and asked members of Romney’s family to contribute to his campaign. But there’s probably a catch: Lee voted against three bipartisan bills Romney was behind — on gun safety, semiconductor manufacturing and infrastructure — and refused to endorse Romney during his 2018 senatorial campaign.

Romney’s lack of approval is no doubt also part of a ripple effect from Lee’s response to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. In text messages obtained by CNN, Lee offered White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows his unequivocal support “to exhaust all legal and constitutional remedies available to you to restore Americans’ confidence in our elections” and even attempted to link Meadows to the election. – refusing lawyer Sidney Powell.

Lee then voted to certify the election results.

The McMullin campaign seizes on Lee’s association with Trump and his role on Jan. 6. “Lee has become the poster child for the politics of extremism and division,” said McMullin communications director Kelsey Koenen Witt. “When it comes to legislating, it’s his way or the highway. And therefore, it does nothing for the Utahns. After nearly 12 years in the Senate, Lee has only passed 10 bills and a good number of them [were] simply named federal buildings.

Outside of Utah, Lee is perhaps best known for suspending 2019 legislation that would offer compensation to 9/11 responders, arguing he wanted to ensure the fund had proper oversight to prevent fraud and abuse, reported the Washington Post. In 2016, he was one of two senators to vote against imposing sanctions on Russia for its role in the presidential election. In May, Lee also voted against providing additional emergency provisions to Ukraine.

Witt compares Lee’s voting record with Romney, who she says pursued “good faith, bipartisan negotiations.” Voters in Utah, she says, “are exhausted from division and party politics.” As a result, the Utah Democratic Party and the politically moderate United Utah Party declined to nominate their own Senate candidates and joined McMullin’s coalition, she adds.

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