FILE – Evan McMullin speaks at Mount Logan Middle School during a town hall meeting October 12, 2016.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin launched a new campaign Tuesday to challenge Republican Sen. Mike Lee in Utah, a conservative state where McMullin made inroads with voters uncomfortable with then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016.
McMullin is a former CIA agent and congressional aide to Republicans who settled in Utah after capturing more than 20% of the state’s presidential vote in 2016.
A tweet announcing his campaign Tuesday, he said “extremism, division and conspiracy now threaten our quality of life and democratic republic.”
The brand of conservatism popular in Utah, by contrast, tends to seek more of a middle ground and values politeness, qualities that initially made many voters uncomfortable with Trump.
“I’m not running as a Republican or a Democrat,” McMullin said in a statement. “I’m running as a patriot, as an American committed to defending our nation and changing our politics for the better.
After his strong showing in Utah, McMullin was mentioned as a possible challenger to longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, but another former presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, won the seat.
Lee is a two-term incumbent who first won office during the tea party movement and leans libertarian. He was skeptical of Trump at first but later became a staunch ally of the president.
Lee won re-election easily in 2016, but has attracted other challengers for his 2022 race, including two Republican women, former state lawmaker Becky Edwards and former gubernatorial spokeswoman Ally Isom.