Oct 18, 2022 - Politics

Sen. Mike Lee and Evan McMullin clash in heated debate

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, left, and his independent challenger Evan McMullin face off during a televised debate Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Orem, Utah. Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP

GOP Sen. Mike Lee and independent candidate Evan McMullin faced off last night in a highly anticipated debate ahead of the vote for Utah's U.S. Senate seat.

  • Organized by the nonpartisan Utah Debate Commission, the event was held at Utah Valley University.

Of note: It was the only scheduled debate between the two candidates before Election Day.

Context: A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released Oct. 10 found 41% of respondents said they would vote for Lee, while 37% said they would choose McMullin.

  • About 12% said they were undecided.

What happened: One of the most fiery moments came after each candidate was asked whether President Joe Biden fairly won the 2020 election.

  • "Yes, Joe Biden is our president. He was chosen in the only election that matters — the election held by the Electoral College," Lee said.
  • McMullin then brought up Lee's controversial text messages with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, accusing the two-term senator of seeking to overturn the election results. "Sen. Lee, that was the most egregious betrayal of our nation's constitution in its history by a U.S. senator, I believe, and it will be your legacy."
  • "Evan, that's not true. You know that's not true. You, sir, owe me an apology," Lee said defending himself, adding that he voted to certify the election results.

Yes, and: Each candidate was also asked about how they would characterize the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

  • McMullin called it a violent insurrection with the intent of overturning the American republic. He attacked Lee, saying: "You were there to stand up for our Congress and for our constitution, but when the barbarians were at the gate, you were happy to let them in."
  • Lee condemned McMullin's remarks and said he was one of the parties attempting to address the situation. He accused McMullin of telling lies spread by Democrats.
  • "Yes, there were people who behaved very badly on that day. I was not one of them," Lee said.

Go deeper: Throughout the debate, Lee painted McMullin, who describes himself as a conservative, as a Democrat in disguise.

  • "You have sought for, actively courted and obtained the endorsement of the Democratic Party," said Lee, referring to the Utah Democratic Party backing McMullin over one of their own to up the chances of defeating the incumbent.
  • McMullin has pledged he would not caucus with either party if elected.

The bottom line: Conservative and liberal super PACS are pouring millions of dollars into the competitive Utah Senate race, the Deseret News reported.

What they're saying: Noting his bias, Utah Republican Party Chair Carson Jorgensen told Axios that Lee was a clear winner of the debate and critiqued McMullin's attack strategy.

  • Following the debate, McMullin said via Twitter that he would not apologize for "holding Senator Mike Lee accountable."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Salt Lake City stories

No stories could be found

Salt Lake Citypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more