He made a decent showing in Utah as an 11th hour presidential candidate five years ago, but most voters don’t know what they think about Evan McMullin as he now tries to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Running again as an independent, the former CIA officer and Republican congressional adviser, is challenging two-term GOP Utah Sen. Mike Lee.
A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found nearly two-thirds of Utahns have neither a favorable nor an unfavorable impression of McMullin.
The survey found 22% of voters have a favorable opinion of him, while 16% have an unfavorable opinion. But the largest number of respondents by far — 62% — answered “don’t know” when asked their opinion of McMullin.
The results indicate McMullin has a ways to go to make an impression on Utah voters before the 2022 election.
Although the filing deadline passed in many states by the time McMullin announced his 2016 presidential bid as conservative alternative to Donald Trump, he managed to get on the ballot in 11 states, including Utah where he finished third behind Trump and Hillary Clinton with 21% of the vote.
Kelsey Koenen Witt, McMullin’s communications director, said the campaign is encouraged that so many Utahns still support McMullin and what he stands for since his independent presidential run, which was one of the most successful in U.S. history.
“In the year ahead, Evan will continue the important work of reaching Utahns in every corner of the state and standing up to the extremes which now dominate our politics,” she said.
While McMullin, who launched his Senate campaign in October, hasn’t stayed on the radar for many Utah voters, Lee certainly is aware of him.
One of Lee’s recent fundraising emails specifically targeted McMullin.
“You’ve might’ve heard, but McMullin claims to be a ‘moderate.’ He’s NO moderate. He worked to elect President Joe Biden and has called for the replacement of the Republican Party,” the email reads.
“You can bet McMullin will be well-funded by those who support bringing down the Republican Party and our conservative movement.”
The Lee campaign declined to comment about the poll.
When he launched his Senate campaign, McMullin said that Lee has lost his way. The incumbent senator, he said, has become a “partisan obstructionist” who cares more about dividing Americans than solving problems.
Koenen Witt reiterated those statements, saying McMullin believes he can better represent Utah, its values and its interests in the Senate.
“This poll shows us there is a significant opportunity for Utahns to unite, change our broken politics and have greater influence,” she said.
Earlier this year, McMullin signed a letter, along with over 150 others, outlining principles for a new political movement. While their written intent was to “catalyze an American renewal” built on “founding American principles,” they also entertained the idea of creating a new party, should the Republican Party fail to change.
Former Utah Democratic Congressman Ben McAdams and one-time United Utah Party congressional candidate Jonia Broderick endorsed McMullin last month.
According to the poll, McMullin has higher favorability among Democrats, men, voters ages 41 to 56, and those with college degrees. But in all those groups, voters who apparently have yet to form an opinion about him exceeded 55%.
McMullin’s favorability among those who identified themselves as Democrats is 29%, Republicans 20% and unaffiliated voters 25%. But voters who chose “don’t know” in the poll is at least 59% in each of those groups.
A higher percentage of men than women, 24% to 19%, have a favorable opinion of McMullin. But, again, 52% of men and 69% of women didn’t have a favorable or unfavorable impression of him.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the survey of 812 registered Utah voters Nov. 18-30 for the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.44 percentage points.
As an independent candidate, McMullin will not face a primary election. He will be on the general election ballot in November 2022, though it is not yet determined who from the Republican, Democratic or other parties will be there with him.
Lee has several challengers within his own party including former Utah legislator Becky Edwards, business and community leader Ally Isom, and Richfield resident Ty Jensen. Democratic candidates include Nick Mitchell, Austin Searle and Allen Glines.
Lee has a sizable lead over the Republicans looking to take him out in a primary election next spring.
Edwards correctly pointed out the GOP primary winner historically has gone on to become Utah’s next senator, though McMullin’s campaign could change that dynamic in the general election. Utah has not elected a Democratic Senator since 1970.
“Utahns are tired of Mike Lee,” Edwards said in a statement. “If Lee is to be unseated, it will happen in the June Republican primary, not the general election where Evan’s name will be on the ballot. I invite undecided voters to familiarize themselves with my campaign and vote against Lee in the primary.”
Isom, too, is focused on Lee.
“It’s clear Utahns want a new Republican leader rooted in core conservative values,” she said in a statement. “We are all tired of political theater and politicians who love a mic.”