McMullin loss in Utah raises independent candidacy questions

Nov 11, 2022, 5:57 PM | Updated: Nov 12, 2022, 3:28 pm
Independent Evan McMullin speaks to supporters during an election-night event on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2...

Independent Evan McMullin speaks to supporters during an election-night event on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Taylorsville, Utah. McMullin is trying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican, in the Nov. 8, 2022 election. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)

(AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)

              Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee speaks to supporters during an election-night party Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
              Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee speaks to supporters during an election-night party Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
              Independent Evan McMullin speaks to supporters during an election-night event on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Taylorsville, Utah. McMullin is trying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican, in the Nov. 8, 2022 election. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Democrats’ decision to back an independent rather than nominate a member of their own party to take on Republican Mike Lee transformed the state’s U.S. Senate race from foregone conclusion to closely watched slugfest.

Independent Evan McMullin, an anti-Trump former Republican best known for his longshot 2016 presidential bid, attracted millions in outside spending in his campaign against Lee. He forced the second-term Republican to engage with voters more than in prior elections and emphasize an independent streak and willingness to buck leaders of his own party.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t even close. Lee is on his way to a double-digit win.

That’s spurring a debate: Did Democrats’ strategy create a blueprint to make Republicans campaign hard, compete for moderates and expend resources in future races? Or does the sizeable loss prove that Republicans’ vice grip is impenetrable in the short term, no matter the strategy?

The answers could contain lessons for both red and blue states unaccustomed to competitive elections.

Some Democrats say supporting McMullin was worth it — it shifted the political conversation, made the race competitive and forced Lee to spend almost double what he spent in his 2016 campaign. But other Democrats say the strategy hurt down-ballot candidates who didn’t have a strong top-of-the-ticket contender to help boost them.

“Building my bench in that sense is going to be so much harder. How do I convince candidates, going forward, that the Democratic Party will support them?” said Katie Adams-Anderton, Democratic Party chair in Utah’s second largest county.

Utah is among the fastest growing states, and Democrats hope they will be able to compete as the electorate becomes younger and more urban. Yet Republicans currently hold both Senate seats and all four congressional seats, occupy every statewide office, and this week expanded their supermajorities in the Legislature.

Four years after running for U.S. Senate herself, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson supported Democrats’ decision to back McMullin. She credits it with making Lee sweat. Though McMullin lost, she said, coalescing behind an independent benefited voters by making the race competitive. She hopes putting Lee on his heels will influence how he governs and votes in the U.S. Senate.

“This was a unique moment, and I actually do think we’ve lost an opportunity by not electing Evan to help break up some of the hardened partisanship,” she said, noting that whether backing an independent was a good strategy depended largely on circumstances.

Votes remain to be counted, but Lee is on track to defeat McMullin by double digits. That’s a narrower margin than his 41 percentage-point victory in 2016 over grocery store clerk Misty Snow but wider than McMullin’s team anticipated.

McMullin won 100,000 more votes than Utah Democrats’ four congressional candidates did collectively, but preliminary results don’t suggest his campaigning against the two-party system energized voters enough to substantially buoy turnout.

Independents have won Senate races in Vermont and Maine, yet in deeply red states like Utah, party politics remain entrenched and important to voters.

To put together a fragile coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents, McMullin focused closely on threats to democracy. Rather than campaign on traditional midterm election issues, he attacked Lee’s November 2020 text messages to Trump’s White House chief of staff about ways to challenge President Joe Biden’s victory.

Both Lee and Democrats skeptical of his candidacy criticized McMullin for being unclear on issues such as abortion or infrastructure spending.

“You say you want to put country over party. I respect that,” Lee said at an October debate, addressing McMullin. “But parties are an important proxy for ideas. You see, because it’s ideas more than parties that tell the people how you will vote.”

Kael Weston, the Democrat Senate candidate who lost the party’s backing when it lined up behind McMullin, acknowledged it would have been difficult for a Democrat to defeat Lee. But he said McMullin’s focus came at the expense of local concerns, such as water or the closure of rural post offices. Focusing on those kinds of issues is the path to making elections competitive in red states, not becoming “Republican lite,” he said.

Though outside spending from Democratic-donor funded PACs and conservative groups like Club for Growth reflect how the race was more competitive than usual, Weston said, McMullin’s attempts to distance himself from Biden and Democrats hurt Democrats who were lower on the ballot.

“If all you see for three months is, Joe Biden is evil and Democrat is a four-letter word, that has an effect,” he said, noting the anti-McMullin television ads might have hurt Democratic candidates for statehouse seats.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Flash flood kills nine at church gathering in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — At least nine people have died while eight others are still missing in South Africa after they were swept away by a flash flood along the Jukskei river in Johannesburg, rescue officials said Sunday. Two bodies were recovered on Saturday and a further seven bodies were found when the rescue mission was […]
1 day ago
Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock campaigns on Sept. 2, 2022, in Atlanta with other members of historica...
Associated Press

In Georgia, how sports explain a political battleground

SMYRNA, Ga. (AP) — The reception area of a metro Atlanta office suite is a veritable museum of Herschel Walker’s football success for the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the NFL. The office is part of the Atlanta Braves’ real estate development in the Major League Baseball franchise’s new suburban home. This headquarters for Georgia’s […]
1 day ago
Sterling Sheffield, an assistant professor of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at the Univers...
Associated Press

FDA change ushers in cheaper, easier-to-get hearing aids

It’s now a lot easier — and cheaper — for many hard-of-hearing Americans to get help. Hearing aids can now be sold without a prescription from a specialist. Over-the-counter, or OTC, hearing aids started hitting the market in October at prices that can be thousands of dollars lower than prescription hearing aids. About 30 million […]
1 day ago
2022 Kennedy Center Honoree George Clooney, bottom third from right, reacts as he is given a should...
Associated Press

George Clooney, Gladys Knight among Kennedy Center honorees

WASHINGTON (AP) — Performers such as Gladys Knight or the Irish band U2 usually would be headlining a concert for thousands but at Sunday’s Kennedy Center Honors the tables will be turned as they and other artists will be the ones feted for their lifetime of artistic contributions. Actor, director, producer and human rights activist […]
1 day ago
CIA Officers Memorial Foundation staff members Calista Anderson, left, and Nancy Faucette, right, t...
Associated Press

Group aiding kin of slain CIA officers comes out of shadows

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calista Anderson was at a sleepover when the email from a friend arrived. She was 12 years old and had just experienced the worst moment of her life: Her mother had been killed while working overseas. The email offered a further jolt. It linked to a news article revealing that, contrary to […]
1 day ago
FILE - Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building at dusk on Capitol Hill in Washington, ...
Associated Press

Supreme Court weighs ‘most important case’ on democracy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is about to confront a new elections case, a Republican-led challenge asking the justices for a novel ruling that could significantly increase the power of state lawmakers over elections for Congress and the presidency. The court is set to hear arguments Wednesday in a case from North Carolina, where […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
McMullin loss in Utah raises independent candidacy questions