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Lee-McMullin Senate race tight, poll shows, generating lots of attention

By Tim Vandenack - Standard-Examiner | Sep 23, 2022

Courtesy photos

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican, left, and Evan McMullin, an independent who is challenging the incumbent in the race for the seat.

It’s easily the most-watched political race this season in Utah.

Indeed, the U.S. Senate contest between Mike Lee, the two-term incumbent, and independent challenger Evan McMullin is generating attention from Washington media types handicapping the future makeup of the U.S. Senate and wondering what exactly is brewing in Utah. While the edge still may go to Lee, the race isn’t shaping up to be the sort of GOP blowout common when a Republican faces a Democrat in deep red Utah.

In fact, results of a poll conducted by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah show a tight contest. According to the poll figures, published online late Thursday afternoon by the Deseret News, Lee mustered 36% support while McMullin garnered 34%. Another 16% are undecided while 13% indicated support for other hopefuls.

One factor boding against a lopsided GOP-versus-Democrat contest — McMullin isn’t a Democrat, though he has the endorsement of the Utah Democratic Party. Many of his views coincide with the Republican Party but he also warns that the “political extremes” on each side “don’t represent the majority of Utahns.” What’s more, Lee is closely tied to former President Donald Trump, a good thing for some, a not-so-great thing for others.

Results of a poll conducted by the Utah Debate Commission, released Monday, show Lee with a more comfortable 10.8 percentage point lead over McMullin. The incumbent garnered 48.1% support backing compared to 37.3% for the challenger.

But even those results are narrower than polling in the races for Utah’s four seats in the U.S. House of Representative. In those races, the GOPers have much more commanding leads over the Democrats and others:

1st District: Republican Blake Moore, the one-term incumbent, had 61.7% backing compared to 32.2% support for Democrat Rick Jones, a 29.5 percentage point spread. Just 5.5% of voters were undecided.

2nd District: Republican Chris Stewart, the incumbent, mustered 50.2% support compared to 30.9% for Democrat Nick Mitchell, a 19.3 percentage point difference. Two third-party hopefuls trailed with 8.3% of voters undecided.

3rd District: Republican John Curtis, the incumbent, had 51.4% support to 26.8% for Democrat Glenn Wright, a 24.6 percentage point gap. Three other third-party hopefuls are also vying in the contest.

4th District: Republican Burgess Owens, the incumbent, had 57.1% support to 30.4% for Darlene McDonald, a 26.7 percentage point difference. Third-party hopeful January Walker, running with the United Utah party, polled at 6.2% and will join the two major party nominees on the debate stage.

The McMullin campaign expressed confidence in the Senate race in light of the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll figures.

“Evan McMullin can win this race. Sen. Lee is in serious trouble – there isn’t another Senate incumbent in the country sitting at 40% or below,” Kelsey Witt, McMullin’s campaign spokesperson, said in a statement. “A majority of Utahns want to replace Mike Lee and this race is now one of the closest and most important in the nation. We are in a virtual tie and we’re 45 days out. Together Utah can stand up to the politics of division and extremism and chart a better course for our future.”

Lee’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a Standard-Examiner query seeking comment late Thursday afternoon, but commented to the Deseret News for its story.

“Our internal numbers continue to show strong support as well. As Utahns see firsthand the disastrous impacts of the Biden agenda, they know they can count on Sen. Lee as a consistent champion of conservative values that will get our country back on track,” said Matt Lusty, the Lee campaign spokesperson.

The U.S. Senate candidates and U.S. House hopefuls are to meet in separate debates to be held between Oct. 6 and Oct. 17 at different locations around Utah, hosted by the Utah Debate Commission.


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