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McMullin seeks backing of GOPers, Democrats, more to oust Sen. Mike Lee

By Tim Vandenack - Standard-Examiner | Feb 14, 2022

Sam Metz, Associated Press

Evan McMullin, who is running as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee, poses in Memory Grove Park in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.

As U.S. Senate hopeful Evan McMullin campaigns for support, he is appealing to a cross-section of Utahns, even suggesting that Democrats forego selection of a hopeful and back him to bolster the independent candidate’s prospects.

“I hope that the United Utah Party and the Democratic Party will, instead of nominating someone into this race, will join this coalition and help me build it because I need the help of members of all parties in order to build this coalition,” McMullin said.

Indeed, coalition-building, he said, is a central focus of the campaign at this stage. Mike Lee, a conservative GOPer from Utah County, now holds the U.S. Senate post and is seeking his third term in this year’s election cycle.

“That is the work of our campaign, to engage with these different groups and bring them together. The response has been tremendous,” McMullin said Monday in an interview with the Standard-Examiner.

McMullin, also from Utah County, previously worked as an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency and policy director for the U.S. Congress. His roots are as a Republican, but he waged an independent bid for U.S. president in 2016, spurred by opposition to Donald Trump, the GOP presidential hopeful and eventual winner.

Now, dissatisfaction with Lee — a “key part” of the “broken” politics in Washington, D.C., McMullin charges — is a key force driving his Senate bid. McMullin garnered 21.5% of the vote in the 2016 presidential vote in Utah, trailing Trump, who received 45.5% backing, and Hillary Clinton, with 27.5% support.

“Mike Lee, he has a hard time working with even members of his own party. That’s why he’s not able to get much done,” McMullin said. “We really need leaders in Washington who will find solutions to the major challenges we’re facing and instead, Mike Lee pursues, appeals to the extremes and promotes the politics of division, and as a result our state is suffering. So we need to make a change.”

As an independent, McMullin hopes for the backing of Democrats, Republicans, independents and members of smaller parties like the United Utah Party. A majority of Utahns want to unseat Lee, he claimed, but support across the spectrum will be essential if he’s to accomplish the task.

“If we’re united in the general election, we will do that. But if we’re divided we won’t,” McMullin said. His call is for voters “to unite in this coalition in the general election to replace Mike Lee and send better leadership to Washington. The state desperately needs it.”

McMullin isn’t the only candidate dissatisfied with Lee. The incumbent has also drawn several GOP challengers, most notably Becky Edwards, a former member of the Utah House, and Ally Isom, a top staffer for former Gov. Gary Herbert.

Edwards and Isom are the top fundraisers apart from Lee on the GOP side, with $507,857 and $240,514 cash on hand, respectively, according to U.S. Federal Election Commission figures. Lee has $2.17 million cash on hand.

McMullin, for his part, notes that he beat Lee in donations in the final three months of 2021, garnering $1.03 million in contributions. He announced his campaign on Oct. 4 last year. Lee garnered $654,476 in contributions in the last three months of 2021, though his current war chest, $2.17 million, is about three times larger than McMullin’s $702,746.

Though he has sharp words for Lee, McMullin more broadly points to what he says is dysfunction among federal lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

“I just think we’ve reached a point in our country where our politics are broken, and so much so that it feels at times that America is coming apart. We’re failing to overcome the major challenges that our country faces and many of those challenges are now negatively impacting our quality of life here in Utah,” McMullin said.

He pointed to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, rising health care costs and inflation as key concerns, along with poor air quality across the Wasatch Front and the lingering drought affecting most of Utah.

That said, he sees “more common ground than our current leaders lead us to believe.”

In his efforts to create a broad-based coalition, McMullin said he’s seeing results.

“There’s currently not a major Democrat in the race. The most influential Democratic leaders in the state have joined the effort as well as many activists and donors. The same is true on the United Utah Party side. There’s not a United Utah Party candidate in the race,” he said.

But, McMullin noted, party officials have yet to make a formal decision on their plans with regard to the U.S. Senate race.

According to the Federal Election Commission website, the Democratic contenders at this stage are Kael Weston, Austin Searle and Allen Glines. Only Weston, who unsuccessfully ran for the 2nd District U.S. House seat in 2020, reported campaign funds, with $33,637 currently on hand.

Driving McMullin politically, he said, are the ideals of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “namely that we are all created free and that we all have equal value and are equal under the law.”


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