Senate candidates clash at UVU hosted debate as election tightens

Sen. Mike Lee and Independent challenger Evan McMullin traded blows after facing off in a televised debate hosted by UVU.

Evan McMullin and Mike Lee pose for pictures as they prepare for senate debate. Photos by Matthew Drachman

Senate candidates Mike Lee and Evan McMullin faced off against one another for the first and only time during a televised debate hosted at UVU.

The debate, being sponsored and organized by the Utah Debate Commission, saw heated exchanges between both candidates as they sought to convince voters of their qualifications. Topics ranged from economic policy to the abortion debate; no topic however seemed to elicit stronger contention between both candidates than the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 riot and the accusation that Lee pushed to have alternative electors slated in order to overturn the 2020 election results.

Photo by Matthew Drachman

“You were there to stand up for our constitution,” McMullin levied against Lee. “But when the barbarians were at the gate you were happy to let them in.” McMullin tied this in with the claims of Lee counseling the former president to consider the idea of slating different electors in order to change the outcome of the election.

Lee issued a fervent denial of this claim, “Evan that is not true, you know that is not true, you sir owe me an apology.” Lee would explain that his position was to investigate rumors that states were considering the idea of slating different electors, ultimately concluding, in his words, that they were false.

The rest of the night saw contentious back-and-forths between both candidates on issues like abortion, economic policy, student loans and foreign policy concerns. Mike Erickson, UVU student and intern at the Herbert Institute for Public Policy, asked both candidates their feelings on rising tensions in the world and what action they would take to prepare the country for the possibility of foreign conflict.

“I truly believe that it was a pretty good debate generally speaking,” Erickson said in a statement given to The Review. “I thought Sen. Lee gave a pretty thorough answer … McMullin didn’t give me any specifics.”

Both candidates stressed the importance of this election within their closing remarks. Lee stressed the need for a Republican majority in the Senate and that his campaign was the only tested candidacy in the race.

Photo by Matthew Drachman

“If this were an ordinary year, if we weren’t staring down the barrel of a deep and dark economic recession, if we weren’t seeing reckless federal spending causing us to careen into a situation where we’re seeing spikes in inflation…” Lee began. “Perhaps in that moment seriously entertain supporting an opportunistic gadfly [referring to McMullin] supported by the Democratic party might make for interesting dinner table conversation.”

“I’ll say our politics in America are broken. Party bosses on both sides have far too much influence,” McMullin countered. “The extremes in our politics have far too much influence in the Republican and Democratic parties, and that is not the Utah way. They don’t represent most of us!”

This debate came during a crucial time in the campaign, as recent polling data conducted by the Deseret News has put both candidates within striking distance of one another, with Mike Lee polling at 41% and McMullin at 37%. The same poll found that nearly 12% of voters in Utah are still undecided about who they will be voting for in this upcoming election.

Photo by Matthew Drachman

As the election draws near, the attacks levied by both candidates have drawn questions about how civil the candidates are conducting themselves and their campaigns. The Review was able to follow up with both candidates, during a after debate press conference, on this point and asked how they could maintain civility given their attacks on each other.

“[Lee’s] campaign and those who support him are depending on lying in order for him to hold onto power,” McMullin stated. “That’s why we’re fighting so hard to defend the truth, and that’s how we’ll do it, we have to fight to defend the truth.”

Photo by Matthew Drachman

Lee followed a similar narrative to McMullin in this regard, “Look at our ads, my ads talk about me and my ideas, his talk about me [and] don’t tell you about his ideas, these are attacks on me. He’s run ads accusing me of being a puppet to Vladmir Putin! Despite the fact that, and countless other things, that he’s said have been reviewed and deemed untruthful.”

As the race begins its final stretch, the debate will be fresh in the minds of Utahns who are interested in seeing how both candidates will deliver on their promises. Ballots have begun to be mailed on Oct. 18.

For more information on registering to vote, deadlines, candidates, and other information regarding the upcoming election, visit Ballotpedia to see how to be involved in the political process.

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