Will Utah Democrats punish Ben McAdams for backing Independent Evan McMullin?

Former Rep. Ben McAdams and other Utah Democrats say party candidate Kael Weston can’t beat Sen. Mike Lee in November.

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer - Former Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams has angered some longtime Democrats for his efforts to promote independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin over Democrat Kael Weston.

Utah Democrats are grappling with whether to nominate Kael Weston in this year’s U.S. Senate race or forge an uneasy alliance with Independent candidate Evan McMullin in the hopes of unseating incumbent Mike Lee. The effort to promote McMullin has angered some longtime Democrats who want to punish one of the party’s most prominent members.

Former Rep. Ben McAdams is a prominent voice pushing the party to ditch nominating Weston and get behind McMullin. He believes Weston can’t beat the two-term senator and that Weston’s presence in the race splits the anti-Lee vote, which McAdams says virtually guarantees a victory by Lee.

“If Democrats stubbornly put up a candidate we KNOW will lose, we split the vote and guarantee Lee’s re-election,” McAdams tweeted before last month’s Democratic caucus meetings.

McAdams and other Democrats, including Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and former congresswoman Karen Shepard, hope Democratic delegates at the Apr. 23 state convention vote to not send a nominee to the ballot.

But the former congressman’s unorthodox plan has drawn the ire of several party stalwarts who think McAdams’ apostasy is worthy of punishment.

One Democrat who wants McAdams punished is Bob Aagard, who sent a letter to the Salt Lake County Democratic Party, challenging McAdams’ position as a delegate at the county’s April 9 party convention. In the message, also posted to his Facebook page, he argues McAdams violated party rules by urging Democrats to endorse a non-Democratic candidate and wants his status as a delegate stripped.

“Mr. McAdams has also tried to encourage delegates and even recruited people to run for delegate, to oppose Mr. Weston’s nomination, thereby causing the de facto Democratic Party endorsement to go to someone other than a Democratic candidate,” Aagard wrote.

Aagard’s challenge to McAdams’ was not taken up during Thursday night’s rules committee meeting since the U.S. Senate race will be decided at the state convention instead of the county contest.

Nadia Mahallati, a Democratic delegate and member of the party’s central committee, also suggested that promoting a non-Democratic candidate violates party rules.

“The call for people to become ‘McMullin’ delegates, at least in Salt Lake County, is encouraging the total disregard of our party’s rules and opens people up to disciplinary action, including being stripped of delegate status,” Mahallati wrote on Facebook.

Mahallati said she was not referring to McAdams in her post and did not mean to suggest a threat against the former congressman.

“I do want people to know and follow the rules because rules are important to me,” Mahallati said.

McAdams seemed unfazed by the backlash and expressed confidence that his gambit would be successful.

“I have always put people before party, so it’s sad to see Kael Weston’s allies — who are realizing there is more support for Evan McMullin than for Kael — decide that Democrats should have a smaller tent. McMullin and I agree on a lot, but more importantly, he will be an independent voice for Utah in Washington,” McAdams said.

The state convention promises to be contentious as the McMullin vs. Weston drama plays out among delegates. Weston is the only Democrat in the race, but McMullin supporters only need a simple majority at the convention to keep Weston off the ballot.

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