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Another potential GOP presidential candidate endorses Mike Lee; challenger Evan McMullin gets nonpartisan boost

SHARE Another potential GOP presidential candidate endorses Mike Lee; challenger Evan McMullin gets nonpartisan boost
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign rally for U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace in Summerville, S.C.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign rally for U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace ahead of South Carolina’s GOP primary elections, June 12, 2022, in Summerville, S.C. Haley on Thursday endorsed Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in his reelection bid against independent challenger Evan McMullin.

Meg Kinnard, Associated Press

Another potential Republican presidential candidate has endorsed Utah Sen. Mike Lee in his bid for reelection.

Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, came out in support of the two-term incumbent Thursday.

“Sen. Lee’s a fighter who’s delivered results for the people of Utah. He’s defended our liberties, lowered taxes, and pushed policies that strengthen American families. There’s a clear choice in Utah and Mike’s the only one with a proven conservative record,” Haley said in a statement.

Lee said in a statement that Haley’s service has made the country and the world freer and safer, adding that she also is a fighter for conservative principles.

The founder of the Stand For America PAC, Haley has endorsed more than 50 conservative Republicans and helped raise $5 million for candidates across the country.

Haley’s name often comes up as a potential 2024 presidential candidate. The former Republican governor of South Carolina said in June that she will run for president in 2024 “if there’s a place for me.” In July, she also alluded to a possible White House bid.

Lee is locked into a tough campaign against independent challenger Evan McMullin.

The Cook Political Report last week moved the senate race in Utah from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican,” though it remains skeptical that Lee is in real trouble.

“This is a unique race that we believe now merits watching not because of a Democratic challenger to GOP Sen. Mike Lee, but an independent insurgent in Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative who ran as an anti-Trump alternative Republican in the 2016 presidential race,” according to the Cook Report.

“Lee remains the heavy favorite still in this contest, but McMullin makes this contest worth watching.”

The Cook Report also noted Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney “has kept his powder dry in this race,” declining to endorse either candidate. “But staying neutral and denying Lee an endorsement is a victory in itself for McMullin.”

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball last month downgraded the race from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican” based on a number of factors, including Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll results.

McMullin has picked up endorsements from national figures on both sides of the political aisle, including former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has also come out in support of McMullin, calling him “the genuine article” after the Utah Democratic Party voted to back McMullin instead of nominating its own candidate. Yang recently launched his own political party called the Forward Party.

In April, Trump endorsed Lee, while referring to McMullin as “McMuffin,” something he has done on other occasions, including in a speech last month at the conservative political conference, which Lee attended.

McMullin took it in stride, tweeting, “When Trump gives you a nickname, you know you’re doing something right.”

The conservative Club for Growth recently launched a $2.5 million television ad campaign targeting McMullin.

“What does Evan McMullin believe, and who’s paying him?” the ad says while accusing him of using contributions to political groups he controls to “push a left wing agenda.” 

Responding to the ads in several tweets, McMullin said the Club for Growth is “spreading lies” and that Lee’s “pals are getting nervous.”

“A far-right special interest group just dumped $2.5M into our Senate race to try to paint ME as beholden to special interest groups,” McMullin tweeted. “But their candidate is the one who’s taken millions from these groups ... they must be confused.”

On Thursday, McMullin accused Lee of dragging his feet committing to a debate put on by the independent Utah Debate Commission ahead of the November election. He said Lee missed a deadline the commission set for agreeing to the event,

Lee campaign spokesman Matt Lusty said the senator “absolutely” wants to debate and it’s just a matter of finalizing a date that works for both candidates.

Lee declined to participate in a Utah Debate Commission debate during the primary election as did all but one Republican incumbent this past spring.