UT-Sen: Dems Coalesce Behind Independent

In a move that was the first of its kind in Utah political history, the state's Democratic Party opts not to field a general election Senate candidate, and, instead, forms a coalition to back Independent candidate Evan McMullin. 

With strong overt support from Salt Lake County Mayor and ex-US Senate candidate Jenny Wilson (D) and former US Representative Ben McAdams (D), the state Democratic nominating convention voted with a 57% majority not to field a party candidate against Sen. Mike Lee (R), but instead form a coalition to back McMullin.

The delegates clearly agreed with the argument that the party was better coalescing behind McMullin, a 2016 Independent presidential candidate and former Republican who placed a strong third in the state (21.5%) behind Republican Donald Trump (45.5%) and Democrat Hillary Clinton (27.5%). They understood that nominating Democrat Kael Watson and producing a three-way campaign meant a sure victory for Sen. Lee.

In the Republican convention, Sen. Lee won 70% of the delegate votes, but still must face a June 28 primary with former state Representative Becky Edwards and ex-Kaysville City Councilwoman Ally Isom, both of whom petitioned onto the ballot. In the latest Republican primary survey (Dan Jones & Associates for the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics; 3/9-21; 804 UT registered voters; 484 likely Republican primary voters), Sen. Lee commanded 67% support with Ms. Edwards closest to him but with only 19% preference.

The Republican convention also produced surprises, but milder than their Democratic counterparts. In two of the state’s four US House districts, incumbents barely qualified for the ballot. Advancing from the convention means obtaining a minimum of 40% from the participating delegates.

In the case of 3rd District Rep. John Curtis (R-Provo), his 41% vote total on the first ballot allowed him to avoid an embarrassing defeat since he did not also opt to obtain petition signatures.

The later rounds pushed him to 45%, but the Congressman still must win a Republican primary against the man whom he defeated in a 2017 special election and the 2018 GOP primary, former state Representative Chris Herrod. The Democratic nominee will be Summit County Councilman Glenn Wright. Despite Rep. Curtis’ poor showing at the party convention, he is still expected to win the primary and general elections.

First District Blake Moore* (R-Salt Lake City) also found wavering support among the delegates. He drew only 34% of the delegate vote, but he had already qualified for the primary ballot via the petition signature process. Marketing executive Andrew Badger, who pledges to join the House Freedom Caucus if elected, captured just under 60% of the delegate vote. Mr. Badger and Morgan County Councilwoman Tina Cannon, who also gained ballot access through the petition option, will both oppose Rep. Moore in late June.

Reps. Chris Stewart (R-Farmington) and Burgess Owens* (R-Salt Lake City) both easily qualified for the ballot with 84 and 68% of the vote, respectively. Both, however, will face petition primaries against attorney Erin Rider and technology executive Jake Hunsacker. Of all the candidates challenging the congressional incumbents, only Ms. Rider, Mr. Hunsacker, and Ms. Cannon raised amounts exceeding $100,000.

On the first quarter Federal Election Commission financial disclosure report through the period ending March 31, the 1st District’s Ms. Cannon raised $105,141 with $41,883 remaining to spend. Mr. Badger failed to bring in six figures. Rep. Moore posted over $930,000 in receipts with $540,416 in his campaign account.

In District 2, Ms. Rider logged $228,731 with just over $38,000 remaining in her account. Rep. Stewart reports over $642,000 in receipts and $376,514 in the bank.

Mr. Hunsacker had raised $121,627, but held only $24,405 in his campaign account. Conversely, Rep. Burgess posted receipts of over $2.32 million with $379,422 cash-on-hand.

While Sen. Lee may have a more difficult general election than in the past against Mr. McMullin and his coalition backing, he is well prepared. The Senator’s campaign receipts total just under $6.3 million with over $2.4 million in the bank. Mr. McMullin is considerably behind. He’s raised $1.81 million with $847,316 cash-on-hand. It is surmised, however, that Mr. McMullin will enjoy support from certain outside organizations.

The state convention process and its 2022 results makes Utah a more interesting political state for the coming primary season and general election. In November, however, still expect all of the GOP incumbents to comfortably win re-election.

* denotes the candidate has received an AGC PAC contribution during the 2021-2022 election cycle. 

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