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Sen. Mike Lee set to face independent Evan McMullin in Senate race

Republican Sen. Mike Lee will face independent Evan McMullin in one of Utah's most intriguing U.S. Senate races in years. Lee overcame two solid GOP challengers in Tuesday's primary election.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee will face independent Evan McMullin in one of Utah's most intriguing U.S. Senate races in years. Lee overcame two solid GOP challengers in Tuesday's primary election. (Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The showdown is set.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee will face independent Evan McMullin in one of Utah's most intriguing U.S. Senate races in years. Lee overcame two solid GOP challengers in Tuesday's primary election.

The Associated Press called the race just 20 minutes after polls closed at 8 p.m. Election returns late Tuesday night showed Lee with 62% of the vote, Becky Edwards just under 30% and Ally Isom with just under 8.3%.

Utah's four incumbent GOP congressmen also sailed to easy wins over their primary challengers.

"The Utah Republican voters have spoken tonight, and they have made a choice," Lee said Tuesday night. "Let's make sure what they've spoken tonight holds true in November."

Lee said voters made a choice for freedom and to reject the Biden administration's failed policies. He said he looks forward to serving another six years in the Senate.

"There are people in Washington, D.C., who don't want us to succeed," he said.

Lee declined to take questions from the media after his victory speech.

McMullin said most Utahns want to replace Lee.

"They're tired of the politics of division and extremism that he's come to embody and they'd like to send leadership to Washington that will be more committed to our interests and that will represent us better and help the country move forward," McMullin told KSL-TV.

In a statement, McMullin, a former Republican who ran an anti-Trump presidential campaign in 2016, said that despite Lee emerging from the primary, Tuesday was not a victory for a 12-year incumbent.

"His support is weak. The truth is, a majority of Utahns know Sen. Lee is failing us. He cannot be trusted to do the right thing by the people of Utah, and he's a leading cause for the partisan dysfunction in Washington," he said.

Rep. Burgess Owens, Rep. Blake Moore, Rep. Chris Stewart and Sen. Mike Lee, all Utah Republicans, pose for photos at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan after each won their primary race on Tuesday.
Rep. Burgess Owens, Rep. Blake Moore, Rep. Chris Stewart and Sen. Mike Lee, all Utah Republicans, pose for photos at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan after each won their primary race on Tuesday. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Two third-party candidates have also qualified for the November ballot.

Lee paid little attention to Edwards, a former Utah legislator, and Isom, a community and business leader, leading up to the primary. His fundraising efforts focused on what he calls his "liberal" opponent in an anticipated matchup with McMullin. Lee voted for McMullin in the 2016 presidential election.

McMullin curried favor with Democrats as part of his strategy to build a coalition of Utahns across the political spectrum.

In an unprecedented move, the Utah Democratic Party did not nominate its own Senate candidate but threw its support behind McMullin. The centrist United Utah Party also endorsed McMullin.

Recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics polls show a tight race between Lee and McMullin.

Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball recently downgraded the Senate race in Utah from "safe Republican" to "likely Republican" based on a number of factors, including the poll results.

Over the past few cycles, there have been some notable campaigns by independent candidates in red states, although none won or even came particularly close, according to the Crystal Ball, but "the Lee-McMullin contest seems to have a little more intrigue than your average safe Republican Senate race."

While Lee does well with Republicans in the state, his overall approval rating among Utah voters in general hovers under 45%.

Isom said she's proud of what her campaign accomplished traversing Utah the past 12 months.

"Through this process we've given people hope. There's a better way to engage in meaningful dialogue and address issues facing our state and nation. And we owe it to our posterity to reach real solutions, get the right things done and bring about a new dawn for the Republican Party," she said.

In Utah's congressional races, the Associated Press declared all four incumbents winners Tuesday night. All of them captured at least 59% of the vote in their respective races, according to available results.

1st Congressional District

Rep. Blake Moore defeated Andrew Badger and Tina Cannon, both of whom tried to position themselves as more conservative than the freshman congressman.

"Once again, Utahns have demonstrated that they seek substance and productivity from their representatives," Moore said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us as we look to take back Congress and fight back against the Biden administration's failed policies that are directly hurting each and every Utahn."

Moore will face Democrat Rick Jones, a West Haven resident who has taught economics at Weber State University.

Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, speaks at an event for GOP primary election candidates at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan on Tuesday. Moore was projected to win his race against Republican challengers Andrew Badger and Tina Cannon.
Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, speaks at an event for GOP primary election candidates at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan on Tuesday. Moore was projected to win his race against Republican challengers Andrew Badger and Tina Cannon. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

2nd Congressional District

Rep. Chris Stewart beat Erin Rider, a Salt Lake attorney and first-time candidate.

The five-term congressman expects to win reelection in November and also expects Republicans to take control of the House.

"I think most people expect that. I think they're going to win the Senate as well," he said. "We're going to be able to stop some of the worst ideas we've seen in this administration."

Stewart will take on Democrat Nick Mitchell, who originally launched a Senate campaign, in the general election, and United Utah Party candidate Jay McFarland, a former KSL NewsRadio host. Mitchell also looked at running against Rep. Burgess Owens before landing in the 2nd District race.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks at an event for candidates in the GOP primary election at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan on Tuesday. Stewart was projected to win his race against Republican challenger Erin Rider.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks at an event for candidates in the GOP primary election at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan on Tuesday. Stewart was projected to win his race against Republican challenger Erin Rider. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

3rd Congressional District

In a GOP congressional primary race that pitted Rep. John Curtis against Chris Herrod for the third time, Curtis came out on top again.

Curtis will meet former Summit County Democratic Party chairman Glenn Wright in the general election. Wright, a Vietnam veteran, has run two unsuccessful campaigns for the Utah Legislature but was elected to and currently serves on the Summit County Council.

4th Congressional District

Owens claimed victory over Jake Hunsaker, who campaigned on the incumbent being an absentee representative.

Owens will face Democrat Darlene McDonald, a local author and community activist, and United Utah Party candidate January Walker. A congressional race featuring two Black candidates will be a first for Utah.

Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, greets supporters at an event for candidates in the GOP primary election at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan on Tuesday. Owens was projected to win his race against Republican challenger Jake Hunsaker.
Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, greets supporters at an event for candidates in the GOP primary election at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan on Tuesday. Owens was projected to win his race against Republican challenger Jake Hunsaker. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

As easily as the four congressmen dispatched their Republican opponents, they might have an even easier time against Democrats, who, with few exceptions, haven't mounted competitive challenges in general elections in Utah. Barring something unforeseen, the state will send the same four GOP congressmen to Washington after the November election.

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Dennis Romboy
Dennis Romboy is an editor and reporter for the Deseret News. He has covered a variety of beats over the years, including state and local government, social issues and courts. A Utah native, Romboy earned a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. He enjoys cycling, snowboarding and running.

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