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Utah Democrats bet on independent Evan McMullin in Senate race

A man stands with a microphone in a crowded auditorium.
Emily Means
Independent candidate for U.S. Senate Evan McMullin gives a speech to convince Democratic delegates to support his campaign over Democrat Kael Weston. He had the support of former Democratic Congressman Ben McAdams (sitting left).

Utah Democratic delegates have voted to support independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin over Democrat Kael Weston.

The move came out of a heated day of debate at the state party’s nominating convention Saturday.

Tension from the race was obvious from the start of the day. Dueling campaign signs for both candidates peppered the Cottonwood High School auditorium in Murray. Before Weston took the stage, some candidates for down-ballot races shared their support for him and stressed the importance of Democrats working to elect people who represent their values.

Weston's speech didn’t mention McMullin and instead focused on topics like child poverty, drought, and access to healthcare.

“These are the issues that are going to be common-ground issues that build our coalition to beat Mike Lee,” Weston said.

But the pot bubbled over later, when Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson moved that the party throw their support behind McMullin’s campaign. That motion was later amended to put a question to delegates: Should the Utah Democratic Party nominate Weston or join McMullin’s campaign instead of nominating a candidate?

McMullin was an independent candidate for president in 2016, where Utahns supported him with about 21% of the vote. Big-name Democrats in Utah, like Wilson and former Rep. Ben McAdams, have backed McMullin in the Senate race as the candidate they believe can best Lee.

McAdams, who lost re-election in Utah’s 4th Congressional District in 2020, said he was siding with McMullin to help “heal the divide” in the country.

“I know Evan,” McAdams said. “I trust Evan. He is a person of principle and character, and he's needed in these troubled times. His path is clear if principled Democrats, independents and Republicans join together in this moment. The stakes are too high to do anything different.”

On the other side, Donna McAleer — a former Democratic candidate in the state’s 1st Congressional District — argued McMullin has a history of supporting Republicans.

“Tigers do not change their stripes,” she said. “Mr. McMullin is opaque. Kael Weston is transparent.”

Even though he isn’t a member of the party, the rules didn’t prevent McMullin from making his case to delegates. He told them he was running to protect democracy from “the far right and Mike Lee.”

“The way to defeat them is to unite,” he said. “I want to represent you. I'm committed to that. I will maintain my independence, and we will show the rest of the country how we beat people like Mike Lee, who try to overturn our democracy in the shadows. Please stand with us. I cannot do it without you.”

McMullin will face the Republican candidate in November’s general election. That person will be determined by the June primary. Sen. Mike Lee and his Republican challengers, former State Rep. Becky Edwards and Ally Isom, will face off in that election.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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