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Utah Democrats to decide if not choosing a candidate will help unseat Sen. Mike Lee

Posted at 3:50 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 20:16:17-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Democratic Party delegates will decide this weekend whether or not to advance a candidate in the U.S. Senate race to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee.

Many big name Democrats, including former Congressman Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, are urging delegates to decline to nominate anyone at Saturday's state convention.

"The convention will provide an opportunity for people like me to choose to not nominate a candidate and I will be encouraging people to go down that road," Mayor Wilson said in a recent interview with FOX 13 News.

Right now, Kael Weston, a former U.S. State Department diplomat and a former congressional candidate, is seeking the Democratic party's nomination.

Mayor Wilson, who ran for U.S. Senate herself against Mitt Romney in 2018, argued that Democrats have a very difficult time winning a statewide race. That's why she is urging delegates and Democrats across Utah to get behind independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin. The mayor, who is arguably one of Utah's most powerful elected Democrats, said McMullin might vote with Republicans some of the time, but she feels he would be more responsive to Democrats than Sen. Lee is now.

"I'm playing to win and I think Evan McMullin has a chance of beating Mike Lee," she said. "That’s the reason for a rather unconventional move for a Democrat to support an independent."

Mayor Wilson is among a number of high-profile Democrats who have crossed over to lend their support to McMullin. Recently, Reps. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, and Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, also endorsed the independent candidate. McAdams, the last Democrat to hold a federal office in Utah, has been actively campaigning and fundraising for McMullin. The United Utah Party, which bills itself as a centrist alternative to Republicans and Democrats, voted overwhelmingly to endorse McMullin at its convention last weekend.

McMullin said he supports the idea of Democratic party delegates not advancing a candidate because he is building a bipartisan coalition.

"A majority of Utahns want to replace Mike Lee, but we’re divided between Democrats, independents and principled Republicans. But if we’re together, we’re a majority and we can make a change here," he said. "But if we’re going to all continue divided, Mike Lee — though most Utahns want to replace him and he’s very unpopular — will be re-elected."

McMullin said he plans to be at Saturday's convention to talk to delegates.

"I would argue the better coalition to beat Mike Lee starts with Democrats," Weston told FOX 13 News. "We get about a third of the state, give or take."

Weston said Democrats do better than they're given credit for in Utah. He points to Misty Snow, the last Democratic challenger to Sen. Lee, who got 27% of the vote in 2016. In the presidential race, Joe Biden got 37% of the vote in Utah. Weston also believes he can win against Sen. Lee, whom he says is vulnerable following the disclosure of text messages to President Trump about overturning the results of the 2020 election.

"People say 'Well, Mike Lee’s got it made.' I think these incredibly anti-democratic text messages have just come out, where Mike Lee is literally asking the White House what to say has new voters focused on why we need to get beyond Mike Lee," Weston said.

Sen. Lee is facing his own Republican challengers. While it is expected he will easily win the Republican nomination at Saturday's GOP state convention, he also gathered signatures to secure a spot on the June primary ballot against Becky Edwards and Ally Isom. Sen. Lee was recently endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who took shots at McMullin in a statement.

Sen. Lee's re-election campaign did not respond to a message seeking comment. The Utah Democratic Party said the decision will ultimately be up to delegates at Saturday's convention. Weston said if he emerges as the Democratic nominee, he would like to build a new coalition.

"Becky Edwards, Ally Isom, Evan McMullin and yours truly, Kael Weston, find a room of just us four and we talk about what we each need to do to make sure Mike Lee is no longer representing our state," he said. "Whether or not the other candidates are willing to do that? Who knows."

McMullin said the coalition is already being built.

"I'm very proud of the cross-partisan coalition we’re building. This is what Utah can do best is reach across party lines, hold the principle but find common ground, come together and solve a problem," he said. "Right now that problem is the politics of extremism and division that Mike Lee pushes on the rest of the country."