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Lee, Edwards and Isom take the stage for the first and only time before GOP Senate primary

GOP-sponsored Senate Primary Debate, June 1, 2022
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A screencap of the Utah GOP's Senate Primary Debate held at Draper Park Middle School, June 1, 2022. From left to right, Becky Edwards, Ally Isom and Sen. Mike Lee.

Incumbent Utah Sen. Mike Lee and his Republican challengers Becky Edwards and Ally Isom tried to differentiate themselves at a GOP-hosted debate Wednesday night at Draper Park Middle School.

It’s the only debate Lee agreed to participate in before the June 28 primary election. State delegates supported the two-term senator as their candidate in a landslide victory at the April nominating convention. Edwards, a former state senator, and Isom, a business leader, secured their ballot spots by gathering signatures.

Utah GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen moderated the event. In the runup, one question was the elephant in a room full of elephants: Would Jorgensen ask about Lee’s involvement in trying to overturn the 2020 election?

The answer: Kind of, sort of, not really.

In his question to the candidates, Jorgensen said there has been “much discussion about election integrity and electoral challenges, including private text messages between Mr. Lee and Mark Meadows.”

He asserted that it was similar to previous elections and asked, “if there is a question about election integrity, what is the proper way to challenge electoral results? And how can we restore confidence in our elections?”

Lee briefly addressed his text messages. He said he was looking into rumors about states “correcting alleged errors” in their election results.

“I made calls to investigate the accuracy of these claims,” Lee said. “The claims were false. On that basis, I voted to certify the election.”

There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election, and courts have dismissed more than 50 lawsuits challenging its outcome.

Neither Isom nor Edwards took the opportunity to challenge Lee over his text messages. Edwards, though, said she was concerned about how former President Donald Trump “cast doubt on a system that is so foundational to our country.”

Besides that, the trio seemed to agree somewhat on issues like food supply, energy independence and immigration. Edwards and Isom tried to hit Lee on congressional inaction, saying it was time for fresh leadership.

One murky difference was on abortion. With the Supreme Court seemingly ready to issue an opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade, Jorgensen asked whether the candidates would support legislation “creating the same right to an abortion” as Roe.

Isom said she “care[s] about life” and that the abortion issue was a complicated subject.

“Which is exactly why we need women in the U.S. Senate weighing in on this decision that affects us every day,” she said. “I'm not just for life. I'm for consent. I'm against violence. I'm for family planning and for improvements in the way we talk about sexual education with our children. We have got to do all we can to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place.”

Lee said he would “applaud” overturning Roe, that it was unconstitutional, and that he would “never, ever support legislation extending the false claims of Roe v. Wade to the country through statute.”

As for Edwards, she said it was part of her faith to “believe in the sanctity of life.” But she said she hasn’t seen “a need to revisit Roe v. Wade” because of the unique, personal and traumatic circumstances of some people.

“If this is overturned, I support states in their efforts to support women’s health, including mental health, across the spectrum of a woman's life,” she said. “But we have to be thoughtful. We have to be nuanced. We can protect life and also take into consideration these heartbreaking, rocky road situations that face so many women in our lives and in our communities.”

The Utah Debate Commission will host its own Senate debate Thursday evening. Isom and Edwards agreed to participate, while Lee declined.

A recent poll from the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute of Politics shows that 49% of Republican primary voters support Lee, while 19% would vote for Edwards and 6% for Isom. The rest were undecided.

Emily Means is a government and politics reporter at KUER.
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