DRAPPER, Utah ( Associated Press) — Two Republicans on Wednesday took aim at a politician known as one of former President Donald Trump’s most devoted allies, attacking incumbent Sen. Mike Lee and working to convince voters that did that one of Washington’s more polarizing figures may not be the norm for voters in one of the country’s most conservative states.
At a GOP debate held at a suburban Utah high school, Lee presented himself as a staunch opponent of abortion, gun control, and President Joe Biden. The two-time senator said he has worked to rein in the size of the federal government and protect the US Constitution.
Although audiences took little issue with his platform, as the current and presumed frontrunner, Lee faced an influx of criticism from Eli Isom and Becky Edwards, two candidates challenging him in the upcoming primary election in Utah.
“You’ve been in Washington too long when you forget who sent you there; when you can’t pass the bill; when people refuse to work for you,” said Isom, one-time government employee Gary Herbert said to thunderous applause.
While Lee appealed for party unity and mostly avoided attacking the opponent, Isom and Edwards both attempted to strike a delicate balance in the debate, portraying substantial differences between their candidates and Lee as being overly negative or potential. Refrained from escaping positions separating supporters. ,
“We have a president who is making it — from gas to groceries — more expensive, and he wants to pile on more and more federal regulations. What we need at the moment is to make sure we go into this fall. Send the United States Senate back a Republican majority,” Lee said.
Isom has attempted to present himself as a governing conservative and an alternative to voters, who see Lee as divisive and obstructive to his frequent votes. Bills that win support from other Senate Republicans.
Edwards, a former state lawmaker, described Lee as an embodiment of Washington’s political incompetence. He distinguished himself on Wednesday with appeals for bipartisanship and a more liberal position on key issues. And at times on Wednesday, he also criticized Trump, who won in 2020 by more than 20 percentage points. Without naming him, he rebuked Trump for doubting the integrity of the election, both before and long after the election.
“It was deeply concerning to me,” she said.
The 2020 election has emerged as a Senate race issue since text messages Lee and former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were published by Nation World News. The messages showed Lee in communications with Trump’s team leading up to January 20 and referenced his communications with state lawmakers, who were considering whether to send congressional voters in line with the vote count. .
Lee reiterated the defense provided since the release of the texts, reminding critics that he ultimately voted to substantiate the results.
In the wake of the leak of a US Supreme Court draft that overturned Roe v. Wade, Isom and Lee both described themselves as anti-abortion. Edwards said she did not want the court to reconsider the case, but if elected, she would not vote to codify it.
All three candidates said they sympathized with those in what they acknowledged was a broken immigration system. Edwards and Isom said they supported efforts to streamline citizenship avenues for immigrants already in the US, while Lee said they saw little chance for reform amid a crisis over Biden, which they called ” Open Borders President”.
Utah is one of the most conservative states in the country, yet historically stands out to the unique political dynamics stemming from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which the majority of state residents are members.
The state has broken away from Republican conservatism with a liberal stance on issues such as immigration., In 2016, a third party candidate The presidency garnered so many votes that Trump only won a plurality. And in 2018, Mitt Romney – among the GOP’s staunchest Trump critics – Won the seat of the US Senate with overwhelming support.
Although Isom and Edwards both opposed some of Lee’s opinions and rhetoric, neither made a scathing attack on him by name, holding firmly to the state’s unfailingly humble political culture.
This year’s Senate race — and whether Utah decides to stick with the senator widely known as a Trump-aligned hardline — will reflect the extent of changes going on in the Republican Party. The election will test the durability of support for the former president as well as whether attacks on Lee’s lightning rod reputation will resonate among voters.
The winner of the state’s June 28 primaries will face independent candidate Evan McMullin.who won the support of the Democratic Party at its April conference.