SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An independent candidate challenging U.S. Sen. Mike Lee in Utah raised more in campaign contributions than the incumbent Republican in the final quarter of 2021, setting the stage for a costly Senate race in a state where sitting Republicans typically cruise to victory.
Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative who ran as a third-party candidate for president in 2016, finished the year with more than $1 million in campaign contributions, after announcing plans to challenge Lee in October. The former Republican spent roughly $330,000 from the time he announced his candidacy, campaign finance filings released Monday show. McMullin began 2022 with more than $700,000 cash on-hand.
Still, Lee began the year with $2.2 million in cash, which is more than double McMullin. Lee, who started last year with $550,000, raised more than $520,000 in the final quarter of 2021. He spent $106,000 in total in the 2016 election cycle, when he ran for his second term in the Senate.
Unlike traditional political battlegrounds that surround it, Utah is an unwaveringly red state that has voted for Republican presidential candidates for more than half a century.
Republicans are currently the fastest growing party in the state, expanding their ranks by 275,000 voters since 2016. They now account for more than half the electorate. However, former President Donald Trump’s performance lagged behind that of the Republican presidential candidates that preceded him, including in 2016, when he received 46% of the state’s vote and McMullin received 22%.
Republicans Becky Edwards and Ally Isom, also seeking Lee’s seat, began the election year with roughly $508,000 and $241,000 in cash, respectively. Democrat John “Kael” Weston began it with $34,000 in his campaign coffers.
A independent hasn’t wrested a U.S. Senate seat from the two parties since Sen. Angus King won a landslide victory in Maine in 2012. The former governor raised less in contributions than any victorious candidate that cycle and drew from both parties’ voter bases.