Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee and his independent challenger Evan McMullin were both offered a chance to participate in a second, nationally televised debate on Fox News.
McMullin agreed, but Lee did not.
That’s according to a statement from the McMullin campaign, which claims staff for Fox News’ Bret Baier reached out to both Lee and McMullin in October to gauge interest in a nationally televised debate that would have aired on Nov. 1.
On Oct. 18, the day after McMullin and Lee sparred in their first and only debate hosted by the Utah Debate Commission, Baier spoke directly to McMullin about the possibility of a second matchup, this time hosted by the Fox News anchor.
McMullin said “definitively that he would debate Lee if the senator agreed,” according to the statement.
But three days later, Baier contacted the McMullin campaign to inform them that Lee did not agree to the terms.
McMullin maintains that Lee declined the offer because of the independent’s “dominating” performance in the first debate.
“It’s a shame that Sen. Lee is refusing to debate me on Fox News. There’s a reason why: Sen. Lee learned during our last debate that he cannot defend his indefensible record,” McMullin said in a statement.
But Lee’s campaign said the senator was instead focused on meeting with voters, and pushed back on McMullin’s assertion.
“It is not accurate to say he declined a debate. Sen. Lee regularly has invitations from national media outlets and we cannot say yes to them all,” Lee spokesman Matt Lusty said in a statement.
“His priority is to meet with voters and at this point in the calendar he’s spending countless hours meeting with voters across the state to do everything he can to ensure Republicans win control of the Senate in order to push back on the economy-killing policies of the Biden administration.”
Lee has made appearances on Fox News programs in the past couple of weeks, including traveling to Las Vegas where Sean Hannity hosted a town hall with Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt on Tuesday.
On the show, Lee called McMullin “far left.” He argues McMullin would not be independent as he claims but align with Democrats in the Senate if he is elected.
“We have a saying where I come from: If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, if it has webbed feet like duck, in this case, it’s a Democrat,” Lee said.
McMullin on Wednesday criticized his opponent for not participating in a second debate, telling the Deseret News in a statement that “Utahns deserve a full airing of the issues in this race, especially the need to reduce the influence of special interests, extremist factions, and party bosses that control Sen. Lee .... But Utahns won’t get that chance because Sen. Lee won’t show up to defend his record.”
McMullin said he hopes Lee “reconsiders his refusal.”