Lee wins reelection in Utah, beating back independent challenge from McMullin
Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was projected to win reelection to a third term, surviving a scare posed by former Republican-turned-independent candidate Evan McMullin.
The Associated Press called the race at 1:23 a.m. ET.
The race was closer than expected because Democrats didn’t run a candidate in the race and instead rallied behind McMullin, who left the Republican Party after former President Trump won the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2016.
Lee injected some drama into the race last month when he pleaded for fellow Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney’s endorsement during an appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“As soon as Mitt Romney is ready to, I will eagerly accept his endorsement,” Lee said on Carlson’s show. “Evan McMullin is raising millions of dollars off Act Blue, the Democratic donor database based on this idea that he’s going to defeat me.
“I’ve asked him, I’m asking right here again tonight right now,” Lee said. “Please get on board. Help me win reelection.”
Romney, however, promised at the start of the race to stay neutral because both candidates were “good friends” and stuck to his pledge despite Lee’s cajoling.
A Deseret-Hinckley poll conducted in early October showed Lee ahead of McMullin by only 4 points, 41 percent to 37 percent, with 12 percent of polled Utah voters undecided.
The survey found that only 40 percent of registered Utah voters had a favorable view of Lee while 47 percent had an unfavorable view.
Lee’s allies criticized the poll for putting too much weight on registered voters instead of likely voters and claimed internal polls indicated that he would ultimately beat McMullin by 10 points.
An Emerson College poll of 825 likely Utah voters conducted from Oct. 25-28 showed Lee with a 10-point lead over McMullin, 49 percent to 39 percent. It reported that 52 percent of voters had a favorable view of the incumbent.
Lee raised $10.5 million for his reelection, substantially more than McMullin, who raised $7 million, according to public data posted by the Federal Election Commission.
The Club for Growth said it invested $8 million in the race to help Lee while the super PAC “Put Utah First” had spent nearly $4 million to support McMullin as of last week.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that outside groups had spent more than $15.5 million on the race.
McMullin tried to build a winning coalition of moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats in a state that Trump won with 58 percent of the vote in 2020.
He had some success in the state when he ran as an independent candidate for president in 2016, winning 21 percent of the vote — only 6 percentage points behind the Democratic nominee who carried 27 percent. Trump won the state six year ago with 45 percent of the vote.
Utah voters have voted reliably Republican over the past 60 years.
Lyndon B. Johnson was the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state in the 1964 election, and the last Democrat to represent the state in the Senate was Frank Moss, who served in the upper chamber from 1959 to 1976.
Lee has served in the Senate since 2011 after he stunned late-Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) at the state Republican convention in 2010 — one of the landmark events of that year’s Tea Party revolution within the Republican Party.