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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Sen. Mike Lee won Utah’s Republican primary Tuesday, fending off attacks from two challengers who criticized him for his unwavering loyalty to former President Donald Trump and uncompromising lawmaking style.
The second-term Republican and Trump loyalist now advances to the November election, where he’ll face off against independent candidate Evan McMullin who in 2016 received more than one-fifth of the state’s presidential vote in Utah running as a conservative alternative to Trump. McMullin left the GOP after Trump’s ascendance and won backing from the state Democratic Party this year. McMullin has kept pace in campaign contributions with Lee in this year’s Senate race.
READ MORE: Texts messages reveal Utah Sen. Lee’s efforts to overturn 2020 election
Lee defeated former state lawmaker Becky Edwards and political operative Ally Isom, two well-funded opponents who attempted to appeal to voters disillusioned with the direction of the Republican Party. They tried to frame Lee as a divisive politician who cares less about governing than he does television appearances and his allegiance to Trump.
On the campaign trail, they called Lee an obstructionist and drew attention to the leak of post-election text messages he sent to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. The messages, they said, showed his early involvement in efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Lee has responded to criticisms saying that he merely encouraged Trump’s team explore available legal avenues, noting that he ultimately voted to certify the results on January 6, 2021. He’s mostly remained above the fray and not responded to other intraparty attacks, instead focusing on tried-and-true rhetoric about the U.S. constitution and criticisms of federal overreach.
This contested primary was a drastic departure from Lee’s first reelection campaign in 2016. That year, no primary challengers came forward to challenge him in arch-conservative Utah, after the one-time Tea Party insurgent successfully consolidated support from both grassroots conservatives and establishment Republicans.
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