SOUTH JORDAN — Republican Sen. Mike Lee cruised to a second term Tuesday with a resounding win over Democrat Misty Snow, the first transgender U.S. Senate candidate from a major political party.
To chants of "We like Mike," the senator took the stage at Noah's event center shortly after the polls closed and The Associated Press projected him as the winner.
"Tonight, let's celebrate a victory, and tomorrow let's move forward with a renewed commitment to remember what's been lost, to restore what's been forgotten and to rediscover the blessings of freedom," Lee said.
This political season has made it clear that Americans don't trust the federal government, Lee said. "And make no mistake, they have very good reason to feel this way, don't they?"
Lee steadfastly refused to endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump throughout the election but revealed Tuesday night that he cast a "protest" vote for independent candidate Evan McMullin.
"I've signaled in the past concerns I had with my party's nominee. I had an opportunity to register a protest vote. That's what this was," he told the Deseret News.
Lee told voters he deserved another six years because he kept his promise to be a different kind of senator. He said he works to protect and defend the Constitution, and not only oppose bad ideas but propose good ideas.
Regardless of who is president, he said his focus would remain on restoring power to the people.
Snow, too, would have been a different kind of senator. No transgender person has served in the U.S. Congress. As it is, she will return to her job as a cashier at Harmons grocery store.
A unique candidate for conservative Utah, Snow was earnest in her convictions and did her homework on issues. She championed herself as a representative working-class Utahn who supports paid maternity leave, a living wage and LGBT rights.
Snow's gender identity never became an issue in the race that wasn't competitive from the outset.
“I think we did a lot better than a lot of people thought, but that’s been my experience the whole time," she said. "I don’t think anybody expected me to get out of convention. I don’t think anybody expected me to win the primary. A lot of people didn’t expect me to do well in the debate. A lot of people said, ‘Misty Snow’s not going to get even 30 percent of the vote.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah? Let’s watch.'"
Snow said she’s not discouraged by the outcome.
“Just by running I’ve made a difference. I was the first woman to run for U.S. Senate in Utah. I’m also the first trans person to run for U.S. Senate anywhere in the country," she said. "I’m a millennial, I’m a working-class person, so in a lot of ways I’ve won a huge victory just by making it this far."
Lee, who raised $3.5 million the past two years, did little campaigning, though he did start running TV ads about a week before Election Day. The spots touted his efforts to shut down warrantless government spying on Americans.
Snow, who had never run for an elected office, campaigned on a shoestring budget, raising only about $50,000. She cut back her work hours to Sundays only so she could make campaign phone calls and travel around the state. She said she made enough to cover her insurance premiums during that time.
Contributing: Katie McKellar