‘They made the choice for freedom’: Sen. Mike Lee celebrates GOP primary win over Edwards and Isom

At his victory party, conservative commentator Glenn Beck introduced Lee and his wife, Sharon, to cheers from supporters.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Mike Lee makes a few comments early in the evening at his election party in South Jordan on Tuesday.

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Sen. Mike Lee has won the Utah GOP U.S. Senate nomination for the third time, according to the Associated Press. He defeated Republicans Becky Edwards and Ally Isom.

“Utah Republican voters have spoken tonight, and they had a choice,” Lee told the crowd during his acceptance speech. “They made the choice for freedom.”

“They made a choice, rejecting the Biden administration’s failed policies,” Lee said.

Lee and other members of Utah’s congressional delegation gathered at the Awaken Event Center in South Jordan to await the results with their supporters. Just before 8 p.m., conservative commentator Glenn Beck introduced Lee and his wife, Sharon, to cheers from supporters.

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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Glen Beck says a few words to the crowd, at Sen. Mike Lee's election party at Awaken Event Center, onTuesday, June 28, 2022.

With about 270,000 ballots counted, Lee had almost 61% of the vote, while Edwards had nearly 31% and Isom was just over 8%.

Edwards and Isom had a very narrow window of opportunity on Tuesday evening if they hoped to pull the upset over Lee. That path never materialized.

Lee’s victory was so complete, he won every county that reported election results on Tuesday night. In the rural areas, Lee racked up big margins over Edwards and Isom. He also prevailed in several counties where Edwards was expected to do well, like Salt Lake, Davis and Weber.

“(Voters) made a choice to embrace the inalienable right to life and Utah’s values,” Lee said.

The results set up what could be one of the most competitive U.S. Senate races Utah has seen in decades, but not because of any newfound love for the Democratic Party in deep-red Utah. The last time a Democratic U.S. Senate nominee cracked 40% was 1982, when Ted Wilson lost to Orrin Hatch by 17 points.

Instead of their usual quixotic quest, Utah Democrats declined to send a nominee to the ballot this year, clearing the way for a one-on-one contest between the Republican nominee and independent candidate Evan McMullin. Polling suggests McMullin would be within a few points of Lee; however, Lee’s internal polling shows he leads McMullin by double digits.

The last time a U.S. Senate race in Utah was decided by single digits was 1974, when Republican Jake Garn defeated Democrat Wayne Owens by just under six points. Third-party candidate Bruce Bangerter drew nearly 6% of the vote that year. Democrat Frank Moss squeaked past Republican Arthur Watkins by just four points in 1958. Third-party candidate J. Bracken Lee received 26.4% that year.

This was Lee’s first primary election since his first campaign in 2010. That year he finished second at the GOP convention to Tim Bridgewater but edged him out in the primary by just over 4,600 votes.

Edwards, who served in the Utah House from 2009 to 2018 is more moderate politically than Lee. The conservative organization Project Veritas targeted her with an undercover video that attempted to paint her as pro-abortion rights. She and her husband served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prior to her run for Senate.

She conceded from a campaign event in Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City.

“I look forward to what all of us can continue to do in the future to make Utah a better place,” Edwards told supporters Tuesday evening.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Republican U.S. Senate candidate Becky Edwards dances with her mother, Barbara Price, and mother-in-law Patti Edwards (left), at her primary election night party in Salt Lake City's Sugar House Park on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.

This is Isom’s first run for elective office. She was appointed to fill a seat on the Kaysville City Council in 2010 but resigned that seat the following year to join Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration. Isom renounced her membership in the Republican Party following Donald Trump’s election in 2016 but rejoined the party before the 2020 primary election.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished these past twelve months,” Isom said in a statement Tuesday after results were announced.

Edwards and Isom were outgunned financially by Lee, who has raised $6.5 million so far for his reelection campaign. Edwards and Isom both used significant amounts of their own money for their efforts, with Edwards lending her campaign $500,000 while Isom donated herself nearly $140,000. McMullin has raised $2.7 million since he jumped into the race.

The threat McMullin poses to Lee’s bid for a third term has not gone unnoticed by national election handicappers. Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” shifted the race away from Lee slightly earlier this month, changing the rating from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican.”

On Tuesday evening, McMullin called on Republicans upset with Lee’s primary victory to rally around his campaign.

“Tonight, I’m extending an invitation to all voters who are discouraged, frustrated, and exhausted by Lee’s divisive and ineffective politics,” he said in a statement. “Utah can do better. More than a third of Republicans are ready for change.”

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