2022 midterms

Utah Democrats Endorse Independent Evan McMullin in Challenge to Mike Lee

Independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin has Donkey Party support. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

When a political party is in a hopeless minority position, sometimes it must get creative to stay relevant. Utah Democrats are doing exactly that, as the Washington Post reports:

Utah Democrats have taken the unusual step of endorsing independent candidate Evan McMullin in his race against Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has faced questions about his furious efforts to overturn the 2020 election to keep President Donald Trump in power.

Democrats voted 57 percent to 43 percent not to back a candidate at their convention on Saturday. They instead hope to lift the candidacy of McMullin.

If the name Evan McMullin sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the conservative ex-Republican Never Trumper who ran a Utah-based independent race for the presidency in 2016. He managed to get on the ballot in 11 states and wound up with 731,000 votes, 243,000 of them from Utah, where he won 21 percent of the vote and finished not far behind Hillary Clinton. Utah was a hotbed of Republican anti-Trump sentiment mostly thanks to Mormons’ hostility to the idea of a president who behaved as Trump did in the infamous Access Hollywood video. Indeed, one of the publicly announced McMullin voters was Republican U.S. senator Mike Lee.

As noted above, Lee got over his moral compunctions about the 45th president, and by 2020, he was cheerleading Trump’s efforts to overturn his presidential defeat. This flip-flop isn’t universally appreciated in the Beehive State, as shown by the very different conduct of Lee’s Senate colleague Mitt Romney, who voted twice to remove Trump from office.

There was just enough Republican grumbling about Lee that his renomination for a third term this year was contested. Though he was endorsed by the state GOP convention over the weekend, he will face two Republican opponents who qualified for an August primary by voter petition. Democrats, meanwhile, abandoned their primary in order to help McMullin, per the Post:

Democrat Kael Weston sought his party’s nomination, but a group of party members supportive of McMullin, including former Democratic congressman Ben McAdams, convinced delegates not to nominate anyone, thus allowing McMullin, a former CIA officer, to get as much support as possible.

The independent Senate prospect signaled immediately that he was building a fusion candidacy, as the Deseret News noted:

The unprecedented decision, McMullin said, shows “Utah Democrats are putting country over party.”

“We have a tremendous amount of common ground (in) this coalition of Democrats, independents, principled Republicans … who want to make a change,” McMullin said. “This idea that our differences are greater than what we have in common are just false.”

The Senate race isn’t the only example of a Trump-generated split among Utah Republicans. The ex-president’s demonization of voting by mail — central to his 2020 plot to declare victory after Election Day votes gave him an early lead — has led more than a few loyal MAGA folk to try to dismantle Utah’s Republican-backed universal voting-by-mail system. It was very popular until Trump’s sinister gambit developed, as the Los Angeles Times observed:

By 2019, every county in the state had opted into the state’s policy allowing counties to mail all active voters ballots, making Utah the fourth state to conduct “all-mail” elections. On election day, a limited number of polling places remain open.

The practice was so popular that in Utah County there was an outcry from residents after officials in 2018 decided against mailing ballots to all active voters. “This is just blatantly wrong. It isn’t the American way,” a city official said about the decision at the time. “Don’t we want high turnout?”

The county later reversed the decision.

That was then. This is now:

Opponents crowded five overflow rooms to listen to a legislative hearing on a proposal to abolish universal voting by mail earlier this year. Fresh off a failed effort to qualify a measure for the 2022 ballot that would end voting by mail in Utah, members of the anti-mail-ballot crowd referring to themselves as “We, the People” said they had heard of ballots mailed to voters who had died and urged lawmakers to require postelection independent audits.

It’s another example of the collateral damage to the GOP from Trump’s selfish efforts to hold on to power perpetually. The Lee-McMullin contest may show whether he can impose his will on a very conservative but occasionally rebellious state.

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Utah Democrats Endorse Independent McMullin Against Lee