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Mike Lee fends off a competitive Senate challenge from independent Evan McMullin

Election 2022, Mike Lee, GOP election party, Salt Lake City, Nov. 8, 2022
Brian Albers
/
KUER
Sen. Mike Lee addresses the crowd and declares victory at the Utah GOP's election watch party in downtown Salt Lake City, Nov. 8, 2022.

After more than half of the votes had been counted on election night, incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee was declared the winner over independent challenger Evan McMullin. Lee faced the toughest U.S. Senate re-election bid Utah has seen in decades.

As of this report, the now third-term senator leads McMullin by roughly 15 percentage points. Lee last won reelection in 2016 by 41 points.

The room at the newly opened Hyatt Regency in downtown Salt Lake City was filled with claps and cheers when Fox News called the race for the Republican incumbent. Lee was surrounded by Utah Republican candidates and their supporters.

“Utah is proving loudly and clearly the policies of the Democratic Party have failed us and failed us to the point that red states are having none of it,” Lee said in his victory speech.

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The initial release of results was delayed due to longer-than-expected lines at polling places throughout the state. The Associated Press called the race for Lee at 11:23 p.m., shortly after Fox News. McMullin conceded to Lee prior to AP’s call.

“Although our coalition did not prevail,” McMullin told supporters gathered at his election night party in Taylorsville, “we've done something here in Utah that hasn't been done in 50 years. We rejected the politics of division and extremism, and we united. Unity is what made this election the most competitive in nearly half a century.”

McMullin, a self-identified conservative, former Republican and 2016 presidential candidate put up a strong fight in deep-red Utah. Although he did garner support in some traditional GOP strongholds, the former CIA operative could not peel away enough votes to unseat the incumbent.

Utah’s last non-Republican senator was Democrat Frank Moss who left office in 1977.

Election 2022, Evan McMullin concession speech, Nov. 8, 2022
Briana Scroggins
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Special to KUER
Evan McMullin, a Utah independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, spoke to supporters after calling Republican Sen. Mike Lee to congratulate him on winning the election, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Lee did not make a single comment about or nod to defeating his opponent.

Instead, Lee said he appreciated the support of his constituents and those gathered in the room. He stuck to his familiar message about holding the Biden administration accountable for excessive federal spending and limiting big government.

“We understand here in Utah that a smaller government means a stronger America,” he said to the large crowd gathered around the stage. “We've got a lot to do and it's going to start by reining in out-of-control federal spending that is taking away the purchasing power of your dollar.”

To push his vision forward, Lee said Congress is going to “reform the spending process in Washington” by holding “aggressive” congressional hearings and bolstering transparency around how the federal government spends money.

McMullin hammered Lee during the campaign over his text messages to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows following the 2020 election. McMullin called Lee’s consideration of former President Donald Trump’s claims of a stolen election the “most egregious betrayal of our nation's Constitution in its history by a U.S. Senator” during the pair’s lone debate.

Lee ultimately backtracked his support of those claims and voted to certify the 2020 election on Jan. 6, 2021.

I truly hope that he upholds his oath to the Constitution during his upcoming term,McMullin told supporters on election night.

Lee emphasized his commitment to the Constitution and the people of Utah as he looked ahead to his third term.

“The best is yet to come,” Lee said. “I can't wait.”

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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