Welcome to America’s Weirdest Senate Race

McMullin presents himself as an independent in the mold of Romney or Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), a new strategy that requires the support of Democrats, independents and anti-Trump Republicans in a deep-red state. He says the race is ‘closed’, citing public polls showing him within 5 points; during an interview, Lee handed over an internal survey showing it by 14.

Even as an obvious underdog, McMullin makes this the most competitive Utah Senate race in perhaps 30 years. It’s a remarkable test of McMullin’s unproven theory that he can topple a conservative by staging a head-to-head race with no Democratic spoilers. The match is as much about the past six years of the Republican Party — and Lee’s place within it — as it is about McMullin’s political strategy.

“I take it very seriously,” Lee said in an interview. “It’s even closer than I would like.”

During a 35-minute interview, McMullin said his state deserved two Romneys and vowed “I’ll be in a coalition in the Senate like I am in Utah, with other pro-democracy senators.” Still, how would he make it work without joining the GOP or the Democratic side of the aisle is a nagging question.

Even if the Senate ends up 50-49 next year with its single vote swinging control of the chamber from one party to the other, McMullin stressed that he would not chat with either party. Since the 1950s, independents elected to the Senate have caucuses with either Republicans or Democrats, according to the Senate Historical Office.

McMullin insisted he would still receive committee assignments despite his position. Lee scoffed at this disapprovingly, “I don’t think anyone knows how it would work, because it’s not done.” A McMullin senator, the Republican said, is in “no man’s land.”

Several Senate Republicans privately believe that if Lee has any vulnerability, it’s his “no” attitude that results in fewer home state accomplishments than an incumbent might like coming up for re-election. McMullin hammers Lee as someone who “does nothing for Utah”.

Going strictly by the numbers, Lee is one of the most reliable “no” votes in the Senate. Sometimes he teams up with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), including on a fight to defund Obamacare that ended in a government shutdown in 2013.

“Yeah, I vote no a lot,” Lee explains. “Many of the bills that are introduced are harmful to the American people and horrible for Utah.”

Part of the race also depends on January 6, 2021. Text by Lee messages discussing favorably Trump’s legal challenges in the 2020 election are becoming a campaign cudgel for McMullin, who argues his rival betrayed party principles to support the former president’s baseless claims.

“When you’re advising bogus legal challenges to free and fair elections designed to convince tens of millions of Americans that the election was stolen…that’s not what a constitutional conservative is doing,” McMullin said.

Lee counters that he was simply exploring the validity of the Trump team’s “unusual and surprising” legal arguments about widespread fraud: “So I made phone calls. The rumors weren’t true. And I voted to certify the election.

Although he’s come to have a close relationship with Trump, Lee isn’t a full-blown Trump Republican. Utahn recalled telling Trump early in his presidency that if you “fight to protect and restore federalism and the separation of powers, you have no better ally.” And as long as you undermine these things, I’ll be a thorn in your side.

Since Lee prevailed in 2010 over Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) In the state’s complicated GOP nomination process, he became one of the most libertarian senators, forming cross-party alliances on topics such as the military intervention in the foreigners and criminal justice reform. He said in an interview for this story that he would likely support enshrining same-sex marriage in law if religious freedom exemptions were added to the bill, a view similar to McMullin.

Yet Lee never faced a real threat of re-election. He won his two previous election campaigns by 29 points and 41 points, respectively.

And McMullin didn’t quite come out of nowhere; The state’s top Democratic official said she supports McMullin’s campaign after seeing him raise funds and mount a credible challenge.

“If they had had a really weak launch, I don’t know if former Congressman Ben McAdams and I would have done what we did,” said Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, who s came up against Romney in 2018 and helped shape the state party pro. -McMullin Strategy.

However, it’s unclear whether DC Democrats will follow the Utah Democratic Party in McMullin’s camp. A Democratic Senate Campaign Committee aide said the organization is “keeping tabs on the race.”

representing Chris Stewart (R-Utah) described Democrats as “angry” McMullin conquered the state party after his past life as a Republican.

“Mike Lee is going to win,” Cruz said, criticizing Democrats for trying to “support a candidate like McMullin to confuse and mislead voters.”

Well-funded GOP super PAC Senate leadership fund ‘will be there if [Lee] needs us,” a spokesperson said. But in a sign of how tough the race is for the Utah Republicans, who are divided between Romney and Trump politics, a spokesman for Gov. Spencer Cox (R-Utah) said he was “unavailable” for an interview.

“There’s never been a race like this,” said Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), who is supporting Lee.

The DSCC has endorsed independent Al Gross in the 2020 Alaska Senate race, but the races aren’t quite parallel. Lee is more polarizing than Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), which ended up beating Gross by 12 points, and Alaska elected a Democratic senator as recently as 2008. Democrat Frank Moss’ 1970 Senate victory was the last time a no -Republican won a Senate race in Utah.

As such, Lee’s campaign against McMullin is straightforward. Lee handed over a McMullin flyer it shows that gun background checks, labor unions, and “congressional voting rights legislation” are independent.

Lee argued that McMullin cannot “convince the Democratic Party not to field a candidate and support you instead – and then campaign on a Democratic platform, supporting a Democratic president – and pretend to be ideologically neutral” .

In fact, McMullin is open about his more progressive positions. He said he would consider weakening the filibuster, likely would have backed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as well as bipartisan infrastructure, gun safety and microchip bills.

McMullin didn’t give a yes or no answer on how he would vote on Democrats’ climate, tax and health care legislation – he said there are parts he likes and parts he dislikes.

It draws the line at the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill. But overall, McMullin thinks campaigning as a future member of a bipartisan gang is a winner.

Romney “is in the room where it’s happening,” McMullin said. “I’m going to take that approach.”

McMullin’s apparent role model said he still didn’t think he’d choose sides, but accepted the praise: ‘Anytime someone thinks I’m a good guy, I get complimented,’ Romney said in an interview. “I’ve worked a lot with Mike and I appreciate the work we do together. But the two are good friends, and I’ll stay out.

Lee replied that while “it would be great to have ‘Romney’s support,’ “I plan, intend and expect to win with or without.”

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

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