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What Jon Huntsman Jr., Tulsi Gabbard have in common in Utah Senate race

Former GOP Utah governor and former Democratic congresswoman back Sen. Mike Lee

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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, gives former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a stuffed elephant .

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, gives former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, a stuffed elephant as she campaigns for him during a rally at the American Preparatory Academy in Draper on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A moderate Utah Republican and a controversial former Hawaii Democrat — both of whom ran for president — have thrown their support behind Sen. Mike Lee in his reelection bid.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is featured in a new Club for Growth television ad saying Lee has “unshakeable integrity that’s all too scarce in politics.”

“You might not always agree with Mike. I don’t,” Huntsman says in the ad. “But we can all agree that principled leadership and fidelity to the Constitution are paramount in difficult times.”

Lee, who served as general counsel in the Huntsman administration, endorsed Huntsman among a crowded field of Republicans running for governor in 2020. Huntsman lost the GOP nomination in his attempt to return to the Utah statehouse to now Gov. Spencer Cox.

A two-term Republican, Lee is locked in a tight battle with independent challenger Evan McMullin in the Senate race.

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Former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, campaigns for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, during a rally at the American Preparatory Academy in Draper on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

On Thursday, Former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who left the Democratic Party earlier this month, joined Lee at a campaign rally in a packed gym at American Preparatory Academy in Draper.

“Our freedom is at stake,” Gabbard said. Democratic leaders in Washington, she said, are undermining freedom of speech, religion and other rights and try to silence those who don’t toe the party line. She said they are “throwing our Constitution in the trash.”

Lee added that those rights have “fallen out of fashion for reasons that astound me and really frighten me. But we’re stronger than those who are willing to erode those rights.”

Government, he said, tramples on people’s rights, and it often starts with freedom of religion.

Gabbard also said women are under attack by those in power with “all this business about Title IX and trans ideology.”

“They’re trying to erase us as women, as an entire category of people, saying that we don’t actually exist,” she said.

A lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, Gabbard also called Democrats “warmongers” who are “subservient to the military industrial complex” and are pushing the country closer to nuclear war.

It’s up to voters to send politicians like Lee back to the Senate to “push the brakes on this and stop them from destroying life as we know it,” she said.

Gabbard announced her split with the Democratic Party on the first episode of her new podcast earlier this month. She accused the party of being driven by “cowardly wokeness” and “stoking anti-white racism.” Democrats, she said, are hostile toward people of faith, demonize the police and support open borders.

Gabbard has made controversial comments about Russia and Ukraine, including some that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, called “treasonous lies.”

Romney’s comment came after clips of an interview Gabbard did on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in March were broadcast on Russian state TV. Gabbard said she was “deeply concerned” about claims of biolabs in Ukraine. She also posted a video to Twitter claiming there were more than 25 “US-funded biolabs in Ukraine which if breached would release & spread deadly pathogens.”

“Tulsi Gabbard is parroting false Russian propaganda. Her treasonous lies may well cost lives,” Romney tweeted in March.

As Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, Gabbard tweeted, “This war and suffering could have easily been avoided if Biden Admin/NATO had simply acknowledged Russia’s legitimate security concerns regarding Ukraine’s becoming a member of NATO, which would mean US/NATO forces right on Russia’s border.”

Gabbard served four terms in the U.S. House. She launched a long shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 and made a campaign stop in Utah. She endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president in 2016.

McMulllin blasted Lee for bringing in Gabbard, calling her an “apologist” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Tulsi Gabbard is most known for her cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin. Sen. Lee inviting her here to Utah as Putin commits unspeakable atrocities in Ukraine is a terrible mistake,” he said in a statement.

During the rally, Lee asked Gabbard if she loves Putin.

“For the record, no,” she said.

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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks as former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, campaigns for him during a rally at the American Preparatory Academy in Draper on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Lee said he noticed demonstrators outside the school grounds Thursday holding signs calling him a “constitutional con man” and a “Putin puppet,” labels McMullin has tried to hang on him throughout the campaign.

Gabbard said McMullin “should be embarrassed” for trying to smear her and Lee with those kinds of attacks.

Lee read a January 2021 McMullin tweet in which he wrote the “GOP has become a ruinous, unpatriotic blight.”

“This is a man who is out filing lawsuits because he was outed, correctly, for having said horrible things about the Republican Party. He wants you to believe he’s OK with that. He wants you to believe that he’s a conservative,” Lee said, adding McMullin has redefined conservative to mean “that he likes to go on hikes.”

McMullin sued Club for Growth Action and several local TV stations for running an ad he says was doctored to make him say something about the Republican Party that he didn’t say. Club for Growth defended the ad, saying McMullin isn’t the person he says he is despite his claims to be independent.