‘Utah deserves so much better’ — The GOP fight is on as former Rep. Becky Edwards challenges Sen. Mike Lee

Incumbent is putting his personal ambitions above state’s needs, she says.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Becky Edwards announces her candidacy for the U.S. Senate at the Utah Capitol, Thursday, May 27, 2021.

Sen. Mike Lee has his first high-profile Republican challenger.

Former state Rep. Becky Edwards announced her Senate campaign Thursday at the Utah Capitol before a crowd of about 150 supporters.

“In 2022, we have the opportunity to elect a new senator, one who will prioritize the values of respect, honesty, civility and faith in the people of Utah,” she said during her 10-minute speech. “Utah is tired of the division and political bickering that have become a constant in Washington, D.C. It’s time for action.

Lee, a two-term incumbent, is gearing up for a crowded GOP nomination contest in which some candidates are likely to collect signatures to reach the primary. He is one of the most conservative lawmakers and has become close to former President Donald Trump.

Edwards, like other potential challengers, are likely to attempt to beat him by appealing to more centrist voters during the primary, which will take place June 28, 2022. Edwards said she will seek the nomination at the Republican convention and by collecting signatures to get to the primary ballot.

Who is Becky Edwards?

Edwards is from North Salt Lake and, in January, returned from serving a 20-month mission with her husband in American Samoa for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She told The Salt Lake Tribune back in April that she was exploring the Senate race.

She held a Utah House seat from 2009 to 2018. During that time, Edwards charted a course as a moderate in the conservative Legislature. She backed the bill allowing a signature path to the primary election, which a number of GOP insiders loathe.

She pushed a resolution recognizing climate change, which the Legislature passed. She championed a tax credit for businesses that offered paid family medical leave, a measure that made it through the House but not the state Senate. And she has been an advocate for increased investment in affordable housing.

She also encouraged more women to get involved in politics.

During the 2020 presidential race, Edwards joined some other Latter-day Saint women who called themselves Women of Faith Speak Up and Speak Out. They urged votes to reject Trump.

Edwards attended LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, receiving a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. She also has worked as a therapist.

What’s her campaign message?

Edwards positioned her campaign launch so that above her right shoulder would sit the statue of Martha Hughes Cannon, the first woman in the United States to ever win a state Senate seat. Edwards pushed the legislation that will place that statue in the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s a tribute to Utah’s heritage,” she said, “but also a testament to the power and strength Utah women can have in our state and in our nation.”

If elected, Edwards would be the first female senator from Utah.

She promised to listen to voters as the state faces what she called “historic challenges” — from a growing population and the pandemic.

She listed a few issues she’d focus on, without offering specifics.

“It’s about coming together to solve problems in order to make Utah an even better, healthier, stronger and more inclusive place,” she said. “Not just talking about it, but actually using our conservative, compassionate principles to address some really tough issues like jobs and living wages, access to health care that includes mental and behavioral health services, educational opportunities and our changing climate.”

What does she say about Lee?

Edwards said, “For 10 years, our senator has failed to deliver for our state. He put his personal political ambitions before your needs. Utah deserves so much better.”

While not mentioning Lee directly, she also said too many politicians have stopped listening. “They’ve lost touch with Utah families, and they are more concerned with their political future than your family’s future.”

In a brief interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Edwards didn’t point to a specific policy difference she has with Lee. Instead, she said, “he’s not at the table of a lot of discussions about issues that matter to Utahns. So, for me, it really is the effectiveness piece.”

Lee’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

What about other potential Senate candidates?

Lee has aggressively fundraised for his reelection campaign, including sending emails warning that he could face many Republican challengers. He had about $1 million in available cash as of the March disclosure deadline.

One of his recent fundraising emails said: “I’m already facing AT LEAST NINE primary GOP opponents and I won’t be able to win this race without the support of grassroots conservatives like yourself.”

He has stuck close to Trump, including holding a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

It is unclear exactly whom the nine contenders could be, though an opinion column in the Deseret News listed nine names. Ally Isom, a marketing executive and the former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert, has announced she is exploring a run. Like Edwards, she participated in the video urging voters to dump Trump.