Sen. Mike Lee comes out on top in a three-way race for U.S. Senate against a Democrat and an independent in a new poll, though less than half of Utah voters would choose the incumbent Republican.
The latest Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics survey also found nearly a quarter of Utahns don’t know who they would vote for with the November election still seven months away.
The poll found 43% of voters say they most likely would support Lee in the general election, 19% favor independent candidate Evan McMullin and 11% would pick Democrat Kael Weston. Another 3% would go for someone else, while 24% are undecided.
Lee is in a “very comfortable” position, said Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.
“The big unknown is what will happen with the independent candidate and where Democrats will fall on their candidate. That is the big question that we’ll be watching,” he said.
Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll of 804 registered Utah voters March 9-21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.
Lee campaign spokesman Matt Lusty said the senator is grateful for strong support from Utahns across the state. He said the campaign is working hard to secure the Republican Party nomination.
“During the general election, Utahns will have a clear choice — failing liberal policies pushed by President Biden and those who support him or proven Republican policies that will help Utah families feeling the effects of inflation, out-of-control housing costs and historically high gas prices,” he said.
McMullin campaign spokeswoman Kelsey Koenen Witt said the numbers show a well-known, 12-year incumbent polling far below 50%.
“We know that a majority of Utahns are not with Sen. Lee,” she said. “Utah voters are tired of Lee’s political stunts and his devotion to party bosses and the special interest groups that fund his campaigns.”
Lee’s job approval rating among Utahns hovers around 42%, which is about the same percentage of voters in the new poll who say they would vote for him in a general election.
Koenen Witt said the survey shows that the only way to replace Lee is if “principled” Republicans, Democrats and independents stick together. The McMullin campaign, she said, is working to bring together Utahns of all backgrounds who want to end the politics of division and extremism that Lee has promoted.
“Evan McMullin is the only candidate who can build that coalition,” she said.
Some Democrats, including former Congressman Ben McAdams, former Congresswoman Karen Shepherd and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, have coalesced around McMullin, arguing he has the best chance to oust Lee should he be the Republican nominee. They are urging the Utah Democratic Party to not field a candidate in the general election. Utah has not elected a Democratic senator since 1970.
McMullin is also making direct appeals to Democrats at county conventions alongside Weston, who argues voters need a true Democratic choice in the Senate race.
Weston said it’s early and a lot can happen between now and November, including what delegates do at state party conventions in April and the outcome of the Republican primary in June. He is the only Democrat running for Senate.
“I think some of the hardest decisions for candidates and for voters are yet to happen. But I definitely believe that we need a strong Democrat in that conversation because unfortunately there’s just too much similarity between Evan and Mike Lee on a lot of policies and that’s not a real conversation,” he said.
“I think there’s a way to beat Mike Lee and have a real referendum on whether he’s good for Utah that could have various scenarios and I don’t believe the only scenario is Evan McMullin.”
Weston shows no sign that he does not plan on going forward with his campaign, Perry said.
“I can’t imagine that the Democrats will not put someone forward to represent their party but that great unknown is Evan McMullin, and there is a large percentage of unknowns up for grabs in this election,” he said.
The new survey shows 63% of Utah voters who identified themselves as Republicans would vote for Lee in the general election, compared to 16% for McMullin, a former Republican who ran for president as an anti-Trump independent in 2016.
Among voters who identified themselves as Democrats, 38% support Weston, while 21% favor McMullin. Nearly a third of Democrats, however, haven’t made up their minds, according to the poll.
Unaffiliated voters — those who don’t claim a political party — appear to be the most undecided in the Senate race, with 38% saying they don’t know who they would vote for. The poll found 23% of unaffiliated voters support Lee, while 29% chose McMullin.
Lee is being challenged within his party and will almost certainly face a primary election in June. Becky Edwards, a former state lawmaker, and Ally Isom, a community and business leader, are nearing verification of the number of voter signatures required to secure a spot on the primary ballot in Utah’s dual nomination system, as is Lee.
A recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll found Lee has a wide lead over his GOP opponents.
Three third-party candidates — two Libertarians and an Independent American — have also filed candidacies in the Senate race.