Evan McMullin launches campaign to challenge Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee

Evan McMullin launches campaign to challenge Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee

Former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin has his sights set on a new office.

The CIA veteran, former U.S. House Republican policy director and government reform advocate who now lives in Highland, Utah, launched his campaign for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, challenging two-term incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Lee.

McMullin, 45, will once again run as an independent.

“I’m not running as a Republican or a Democrat,” McMullin said in a press release. “I’m running as a patriot, as an American committed to defending our nation and changing our politics for the better.”

America increasingly faces crisis after crisis that never get solved, including forest fires, water shortages, a never-ending pandemic, the high cost of health care and an economy threatened by inflation and an exploding national debt, according to McMullin.

“Our politics are broken,” he said. “And it’s putting our country in danger. We need leaders who will unite rather than divide. Washington has left us so polarized that we’re failing to overcome major problems facing the nation and it has to change.”

Lee’s approval rating among Utah voters has languished below 50% in Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics polls. While he does well among those who identify themselves as conservatives and Republicans, his numbers drop among Utahns generally.

So far, two Republicans — former Utah lawmaker Becky Edwards and longtime communications, public policy and political strategist Ally Isom — are challenging Lee. Democrats Nick Mitchell, Austin Searle and Allen Glines have also started campaigns.

McMullin, a BYU graduate, said he would bring to Washington the “Utah way,” which he described as a more compassionate, selfless and independent way to solve problems and includes leadership that sticks to principles but finds common ground. Utah has an opportunity in 2022 to change the political dysfunction and chaos that currently drive politics, and have much greater influence in the Senate, he said.

In August 2016, McMullin announced his candidacy as an independent. He said at the time that he was in to win but also to start a new conservative movement. His three-month campaign attracted attention across the country. For a time in Utah, polls had him ahead of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump eventually won Utah with 45% of the vote, followed by Clinton with 29% and McMullin with 21%.

An April 2017 poll conducted by JMC Analytics for the Centrist Project found McMullin would beat now retired Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch in a head-to-head matchup. Hatch didn’t run in 2018 and GOP Sen. Mitt Romney now holds the seat.

Since his run for president, McMullin co-founded Stand Up Republic, a nonprofit focused on uniting people across party lines around founding ideals, electing honorable leaders, and ensuring accountable government. McMullin, who got married in June, is also a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.

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