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Utah Democrats back independent McMullin in Senate race against Lee

Evan McMullin, a never-Trump conservative, unsuccessfully ran for president in 2016 but fared well in Utah. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
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Utah Democrats have taken the unusual step of endorsing independent candidate Evan McMullin in his race against Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has faced questions about his furious efforts to overturn the 2020 election to keep President Donald Trump in power.

Democrats voted 57 percent to 43 percent not to back a candidate at their convention on Saturday. They instead hope to lift the candidacy of McMullin, a never-Trump conservative who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2016 but fared well in Utah.

“Today we took an important step in building a new coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents to change our broken politics,” McMullin tweeted Saturday. “I’m grateful for the support of Democratic delegates who voted to join us and for Kael Weston’s honorable campaign. Onward!”

Democrat Kael Weston sought his party’s nomination, but a group of party members supportive of McMullin, including former Democratic congressman Ben McAdams, convinced delegates not to nominate anyone, thus allowing McMullin, a former CIA officer, to get as much support as possible.

The Evan McMullin impact on the 2022 Senate battle

McMullin attracted a significant chunk of support — 22 percent — from Utah conservatives looking for an alternative to Trump in 2016 — including Lee, then a vocal critic. Given that Utah has not sent a Democrat to the Senate in more than half a century, some party members concluded that McMullin was their best shot at defeating Lee, a die-hard Trump supporter.

Text conversations reviewed by CNN earlier this month revealed that Lee, who previously asked Trump to abandon his presidential run after recordings of him bragging about sexual assault surfaced, worked furiously to overturn the 2020 election to keep Trump in power.

According to the messages to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Lee was strongly supportive of the president’s efforts to undo the election through legal challenges. Meadows had provided the messages to the House committee investigating the pro-Trump mob’s deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Lee offered the White House aide his “unequivocal support for you to exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy at your disposal to restore Americans faith in our elections” on Nov. 7, 2020, the day news organizations projected Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as the winner.

The lawmaker told Meadows that he was spending “14 hours a day” on the effort and contacting state lawmakers in search of a loophole to give Congress a reason not to count the electoral votes for Biden that would thus affirm his win. The lawmaker ultimately abandoned the effort when no evidence of widespread fraud surfaced and his outreach to states for alternate electors was unproductive.

McMullin strongly criticized Lee after the revelation, saying that the lawmaker “committed an unpardonable betrayal of his oath and the public trust.”

“Whether Lee accepts it or not, we are still a democracy and he is still accountable to us,” he previously told The Washington Post. “He owes Utahns and the entire country a full, honest accounting of his role in this brazen treachery. He has no place in the U.S. Senate, and I’m asking Utahns of all party affiliations to hold him accountable.”

Lee recently was caught on camera dodging questions about his attempt at overturning the election. Most notably, Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the Senate’s most vocal critics of Trump, has not endorsed Lee.