Can a Republican challenger catch Utah Sen. Mike Lee in 2022? New poll gives an early peek
GOP candidates Becky Edwards, Ally Isom looking to oust two-term incumbent
Becky Edwards hauls around Utah the same yellow couch that guests used to sit on for Saturday morning discussions in her living room about issues facing the state.
“It’s a great symbol, really, of when I was serving before and what I plan to do,” said Edwards, who spent a decade in the Utah Legislature. “It’s just the model of how I approach my public service: listening, learning and then acting on what I learned.”
Ally Isom traverses the state in a fifth-wheel camp trailer dubbed the “All Inn” as part of her listening tour, which includes walking a mile with residents in each community.
“I’m finding that a lot of people feel unseen and unheard across the spectrum. It doesn’t matter the demographic,” she said. “People feel unseen and unheard. They’re ready for a different kind of leadership.”
The two Republican candidates for U.S. Senate have logged thousands of miles up and down Utah, but they have a lot of ground to cover to catch incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Lee.
A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows both challengers well behind in their drive to unseat the conservative two-term senator.
If the Republican Party primary election were held today, 53% of voters would choose Lee, 7% Edwards and 2% Isom. Another 6% would go for some other Republican, while 32% don’t know.
Dan Jones & Associates surveyed 469 likely Utah Republican primary voters Oct. 14-21. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.52 percentage points.
Though it’s early, Utah has not seen a Senate race like the one taking shape for 2022. Lee has two Republican challengers so far, both women, as well as an independent candidate in Evan McMullin. Several Democrats have also jumped in including Nick Mitchell, who is Black. Utah has never elected a woman or a minority to the U.S. Senate.
Statewide races in Utah are usually won or lost in the Republican primary. Barring something catastrophic, it’s highly unlikely that Democrats will flip the U.S. Senate seat. The state has not elected a Democratic senator since 1970.
Edwards and Isom intend to pursue both signature gathering and the state convention to secure a spot on the June 2022 primary ballot, forcing Lee into a primary for the first time since 2010.
Asked in a recent interview if he’s thought much about the candidates lining up against him, Lee said he’s focused on his job and preparing for 2022.
“We’ll be ready,” he said.
Isom and Edwards contend Utah is ready for new representation in the Senate. Both say Lee is not meeting the needs of everyday Utahns.
“The incumbent uses language that is divisive and animated in ways that polarizes and, I think, undermine Utah’s success in Washington, D.C..” Isom said. “People ask me often what differentiates me from Sen. Lee. We share the same values, we belong to the same party but my behavior would be vastly different.”
Edwards said she wants to see a more direct connection between the work being done in the Senate and the difficulties Utahns face.
“The challenge with our incumbent is his tone and hyper partisanship ends up being a distraction around the ability to solve problems, and I think we’ve seen a perpetual ineffectiveness that has left Utahns behind,” she said.
The poll shows Lee with a wide margin over Edwards and Isom across all demographic categories, including gender and political ideology.
Among men, Lee gets 56% of the vote, Edwards 5% and Isom 2%. Among women, Lee gets 48%, Edwards 10% and Isom 2%. But the number of women who say they don’t know who they would vote for balloons to 40%.
Lee, who has a solid base among conservative Republicans, wins 75% of the vote among those in the poll who identified themselves as “very conservative.” The figure falls to 35% among moderates, but Edwards and Isom remain in single digits, while those who don’t know jumps to 40%.
Lee campaign strategist Matt Lusty said Lee’s support among Republicans has been consistent because he is consistent. The senator, he said, provides leadership Utahns can count on. Lee is committed to earning the GOP nomination through hard work and continuing to fight for conservative principles.
Though the overall poll results show Isom and Edwards lagging well behind, both found the numbers encouraging.
Isom said the survey shows Utah is ready for a change.
“Utahns want someone who puts people over politics and the poll shows the incumbent is barely holding on,” she said.
Edwards said the poll shows she continues to be Lee’s leading challenger.
“We’re feeling really optimistic about where we are and how people are continuing to join the campaign,” she said.
Both GOP candidates believe Lee is vulnerable. A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll last month showed Lee has a 45% job approval rating, and 34% disapproval rating, with 20% unsure.
All three Republican candidates are furiously raising money.
Isom has raised $415,000, including $100,000 of her own money, since entering the race in July, according to her third quarter Federal Election Commission report filed in October. Edwards’ FEC report shows she has taken in $725,000, including $275,000 out of her own pocket since May. Lee has raked in $2.4 million since the first of the year, according to his FEC filing.
In their travels across the state, Edwards and Isom, who have yet to cross paths on the campaign trail, say Utahns have a lot on their minds.
Edwards said residents are concerned about issues relating to their families, including clean air, water, affordable housing and education. Businesses, she said, are looking at how to create good opportunities for employees and their families to thrive and grow.
Isom said the top issue she has encountered so far is water, and how it leads into smart growth and infrastructure. Affordable housing, affordable day care and law enforcement morale have also been top of mind for residents, she said.