- Mike Lee is locked in a close Senate race with independent Evan McMullin in Utah, per a new survey.
- In the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, Lee had a slight edge over McMullin (41%-36%).
- In April, McMullin earned the official backing of the state Democratic Party in this GOP stronghold.
For generations, Utah has been a Republican stronghold, consistently backing GOP presidential nominees and statewide office holders.
However, the Senate race this fall could potentially shake up state politics in an unusual way, as incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee faces independent Evan McMullin in what could shape up as a proxy on the continued influence of former President Donald Trump throughout the Beehive State.
In the latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll, Lee earned the support of 41% of respondents, 36% backed McMullin, while 14% opted for another candidate. According to the poll, 8% of respondents said they were undecided.
Lee’s job approval rating sat at 46%, with 47% disapproving of the two-term senator’s performance and seven percent with no opinion.
The poll surveyed 801 registered voters throughout mid-July and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
Jason Perry, the director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, told Deseret News that the state “has not seen a Senate race this competitive in decades.”
“Both Lee and McMullin have a base of support locked in and will spend the next few months in a contentious fight to win over the few who remain undecided. This race is going to be expensive with tremendous outside interest,” he told the news outlet. .
While Lee is looking to capitalize on the GOP base in what is expected to be a strong year for the party across the country, McMullin is banking on discontent among some Republicans concerning the incumbent’s movement towards Trump’s political sphere of influence in recent years.
Lee defeated former state Rep. Becky Edwards and Ally Isom — a former spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — in a GOP primary last month, but he ceded a sizeable share of the vote to his opponents. He received nearly 62% of the party vote, while Edwards earned 30% and Isom was backed by 8%.
But unlike most Republicans across the country, Edwards and Isom criticized Lee for his lack of independence from Trump, arguing that voters wanted someone who was less partisan.
McMullin hopes to fill that void; he even won the support of the state’s Democratic Party, who chose not to field their own candidate and instead threw their support behind his candidacy. (Democrats have not won a Senate race in Utah since Frank Moss was reelected to a third term in 1970.)
While Lee has become an integral part of the GOP caucus, McMullin told NBC News earlier this month that he wouldn’t caucus with either major party should he be elected to office this fall.
Lee supported all of Trump’s Supreme Court judicial nominees (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett) but McMullin would only say he would have backed Gorsuch while expressing heavy reservations about Kavanaugh and Barrett.
And McMullin said he would have voted for Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was nominated to the high court by President Joe Biden and confirmed by a 53-47 margin with the support of 50 Democrats and three Republicans.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney — who has been a sharp critic of Trump — was among the small GOP group that backed Jackson.