Nov 10, 2022 - Politics

Three takeaways from Sen. Mike Lee's win

Sen. Mike Lee speaking with a microphone.

Sen. Mike Lee speaks during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida, on Friday, July 22, 2022. Photo: Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Axios Salt Lake City spoke to Damon Cann, the head of the political science department at Utah State University, about his top takeaways from incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Lee's win over and independent Evan McMullin.

  • Cann, who holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in political science, has studied U.S. elections for more than 20 years.

1. Republicans were motivated by the balance of power in Congress

The high stakes around whether Republicans would take control of the U.S. Senate (which is still in flux) was a motivating issue for conservatives, Cann said.

  • A McMullin win could have cost Republicans Senate control, Cann said, because he vowed not to caucus with either party in order to maintain his independence.

Flashback: In October, Lee made the Senate argument while publicly pressuring his GOP colleague Sen. Mitt Romney to endorse him on Fox News.

The bottom line: That argument "ended up being persuasive," Cann said.

2. Mike Lee may be more cautious

The race forced Lee to play defense regarding some of his past behavior and distance himself from former President Donald Trump, whose performance in Utah was the worst among red states in 2016, per Politico.

Flashback: During a 2020 presidential campaign event in Arizona, Lee, a staunch Trump supporter and a Latter-day Saint, compared the then-president to Captain Moroni, a moral and heroic figure in The Book of Mormon.

  • The comparison was met with backlash from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • That same year, Lee was criticized for blocking legislation to create women's history and Latino museums in Washington, D.C.
  • In April 2022, Lee faced fierce scrutiny over text messages he exchanged with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that revealed he researched tactics to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

State of play: After facing his most competitive Senate race since he was first elected in 2010, Lee may be more cautious about further alienating Utah voters through his actions and policy positions, Cann said.

3. Attack ads against McMullin worked for Lee

The conservative super PAC Club for Growth, which supported Lee's re-election, invested millions in attack ads that portrayed McMullin negatively, campaign finance filings show.

  • Those ads were a critical component of Lee's victory, according to Cann.

By the numbers: Club for Growth spent nearly $5.5 million on attack ads leading up to the race, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

What they're saying: "People are often startled by and pay attention to negative information in a way that they don't to positive information," Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, told Deseret News.


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