(NewsNation) — The Senate race in Utah is emerging as a potential wild card in the battle for control of the Senate, and an independent candidate believes he has a real shot at winning in a state that hasn’t sent a Democratic senator to Congress in 50 years.
In a reliably red state where Republican senators have won 60% of the vote in every election since 1994, Evan McMullin has an uphill battle. He’s looking to voters in the middle to get him over the hump in his bid to unseat Republican Sen. Mike Lee.
“This is a statistically tight race still with lots of undecideds. We’ve got a real opportunity to win this,” McMullin said Tuesday on “CUOMO.” “Most of the undecided voters are not Lee supporters … we just have to reach them with our message.”
McMullin, who ran for president in 2016 as an independent and won 21% of the vote in the state, has criticized Lee for his role in the events surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and the effort to overturn the 2020 election.
He’s zeroing in on text messages Lee exchanged with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about urging the administration to “keep fighting” and make time for Sidney Powell and John Eastman, two lawyers who pushed the idea the election could be overturned.
“If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path,” Lee said to Meadows in one of the texts.
In another, sent Jan. 4, 2021, Lee says: “I’ve been calling state legislators for hours today, and am going to spend hours doing the same tomorrow. I’m trying to figure out a path that I can persuasively defend … We need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate and to have any hope of winning.”
Urging constituents to go look at the messages, McMullin said Lee’s words indicate he can’t be trusted to uphold laws and principles.
“Senator Lee has long had this habit of pulling his pocket Constitution out of his coat and suggesting that he’s committed to it and defending, but you can’t be a constitutional conservative if you betray the Constitution,” McMullin said. “He betrayed his oath to the Constitution and betrayed, I think, even the idea of America.”
Countering McMullin’s critiques at a debate Monday night, Lee said “there is absolutely nothing to the idea that I would have ever supported, ever did support, a fake electors plot. Nothing.”
If elected, McMullin has pledged to caucus with neither party, instead representing only the interests of Utahans. Utah Democrats helped McMullin significantly by declining to endorse one of their own members and instead backing McMullin at their state convention in April.
One area McMullin would be at odds with Democrats is abortion. McMullin, a former Republican, calls himself “pro-life.” However, he said he’s grown concerned about extremes in politics.
“Some (state laws) are putting women and children and the unborn at risk because they would force a 10-year-old rape victim, for example, to carry a pregnancy to term. I think that’s wrong,” McMullin said. “I’m committed to standing up to the extremes on this issue, frankly, on both sides.”
At the Monday debate, Lee painted McMullin as a Democrat in disguise.
“You have sought for, actively courted and obtained the endorsement of the Democratic Party. You’ve raised millions of dollars from ActBlue, the database on which [the] far-left, progressive, socialist Democratic donors can be found. And then you have in the last quarter alone spent $1.6 million feeding the Democratic industrial complex,” Lee alleged at one point during the debate.
The Hill contributed to this report.