The closest U.S. Senate race Utah has seen in half a century culminated in a victory for two-term Republican Sen. Mike Lee.
But independent candidate Evan McMullin, a conservative with the backing of the Utah Democratic Party, pulled two counties that Lee won in 2016, and gained voters in others, according to early tallies.
In 2016, 68% of voters cast their ballot for Lee. As of Wednesday afternoon, the incumbent had secured 55% of the vote. According to Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, voter turnout sat at 47.5% the morning after Election Day, with more ballots still to be processed.
Both Salt Lake and Grand counties, which went for Lee last time he was up for reelection, flipped for McMullin. In Salt Lake County, McMullin was ahead of Lee by more than 35,000 votes Wednesday afternoon.
Mike Lee won every county except Summit in 2016. McMullin had overwhelming support in Summit County this year.
McMullin also took voters from Lee in the rest of Utah’s counties, including the largest ones — Utah, Davis, Washington and Weber. In Utah and Davis counties, specifically, Lee got more than 20 percentage points fewer votes than in 2016.
In his concession speech late Tuesday night, McMullin said, “We’ve come together in a historic way, and this effort, our effort, has shown the country that there is another way forward.”
McMullin’s race relied on his effort to create what he often referred to as a “cross-partisan coalition,” bringing together Democratic, Republican, third-party and unaffiliated voters.
As of Wednesday afternoon, it was still unclear which party might have a majority in the U.S. Senate. Two seats — one in Arizona and one in Nevada — have not yet been called, and Georgia’s Senate race is heading to a runoff.
The unprecedented competition between the two conservatives in Utah’s general election drew national attention, and likely more money than any other race in the state’s history.
“Utah has spoken loudly and clearly,” Lee said, taking the stage for his victory speech. “The policies of the Democratic Party have failed us, and failed us to the point that red states are having none of it.”