Utah has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate.
So far, two women have stepped up to challenge two-term Sen. Mike Lee for the Republican nomination next year.
Ally Isom, a longtime communications, public policy and political strategist, filed her candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday. Former state lawmaker Becky Edwards filed in May.
“Too often women are seen as the outliers when it comes to politics. I think we are claiming our voice and claiming our place. Actually, I think it will change the nature of the race,” Isom said. “Women see public policy issues in a different way. It’s not necessarily a better way. It’s just a different way.”
Isom, 51, said others, including three women on three consecutive days, urged her to get into the race. She said she had been asked to run before but it felt different this time. The country, she said, is at a crossroads.
“I watched our Capitol under attack on Jan. 6 and I just thought I want my country back. I want my party back. This isn’t who we are,” she said.
Isom describes herself as a “mainstream” Republican. She said she wants to see a return to fundamental conservative principles on which the party was founded, including limited government, fiscal responsibility and the ability of states to solve problems. Government, she said, isn’t the answer for everything.
Although Isom didn’t want to talk about how Lee has represented Utah, she said her tone would not be as strident as the senator’s.
“You’re going to hear less red meat from me. There’s a way to talk about fundamentals and goals without throwing verbal barbs left and right or saying things that make for great press but not for great relationships,” she said.
Isom has been involved with Republican politics and community service for much of her life. She was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Kaysville City Council in 2010. She worked for three years as communications director and deputy chief of staff for former Gov. Gary Herbert.
In 2014, she took a job with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in family and community relations with responsibility for local community and interfaith outreach as well as fostering understanding on concerns to women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. She also worked as director of global branding for the church.
Most recently, she was the chief strategy and marketing officer and later acting executive officer for EVŌQ Nano, a Utah nanotechnology startup. She resigned to campaign for the Senate seat.
Isom plans to lace up a pair of red Altra running shoes to walk a mile with people in communities throughout Utah as part of a listening tour starting this weekend.
“I’m interested in hearing about real-life problems and fresh ideas, in ranches and startups, from fifth-generation Utahns and those who come and stay for our way of life,” she said.
Isom, and her husband, Eric, are the parents of four children, including a daughter who died in 2012 at age 21.
Polling shows large lead for Lee
While the primary election is a year away, Lee has an early and large lead over any potential GOP challengers, though nearly a third of voters are undecided.
A new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows 47% of potential primary voters would choose Lee, while 11% would go with Edwards, the only candidate who had filed with the FEC at the time the survey was taken.
The poll found 8% would vote for some other Republican. But 33% are not sure who they would vote for at this point.
The new poll shows 60% of Utahns who identified themselves as conservative and 56% of those who identified as Republicans would vote for Lee, though nearly one-third in both categories are undecided. Lee does better with older voters than younger ones. The survey found half of Republicans age 18 to 34 aren’t sure who they would vote for at this point.
Independent pollster Scott Rasmussen polled 525 potential primary voters in Utah June 18-25. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Lee campaign spokesman Matt Lusty said the senator is focused on continuing to deliver results for the people of Utah.
“Utahns recognize that and that’s why this poll and our internal polling show strong support, especially among Republican voters,” he said. “The only poll that counts is always the people’s vote.”
Lee is committed to earning the Republican Party’s nomination in 2022 through hard work and continuing his leadership in fighting for conservative principles, Lusty said.
Edwards’ campaign spokesman Kyle Treasure said the campaign is encouraged by the support Edwards has received around the state since announcing her candidacy five weeks ago.
“These numbers are evidence that Utahns would like an alternative in 2022,” he said of the poll. “Becky is looking forward to visiting with Utah families over the next year, listening to their stories, and discussing her vision for better leadership, better politics and better solutions.”
A national conservative super PAC that has endorsed Lee wasted no time in going after Edwards and Isom. Club for Growth Action mailed attack ads against Edwards as she announced her plans and went after Isom even before she got into the race.
Both Isom and Edwards intend to pursue the convention and signature gathering paths under Utah’s dual nomination system to the primary election ballot.
Edwards and Isom aren’t the only Republicans who might want to take on Lee. Other potential candidates include former state Sen. Dan Hemmert, former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright and Henry Eyring, the grandson of President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Correction: An earlier version stated that Ally Isom had not previously sought public office. She was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Kaysville City Council in 2010.