Top conservative group spends big in Utah to protect Mike Lee from Evan McMullin’s challenge

The Club for Growth airs on television in Utah with $2.5 million in advertising to provide air coverage for Sen. Mike Lee (R), who fends off an unexpected aggressive challenge from independent candidate Evan McMullin.

Utah is a red state and Republicans are favored to make gains in Congress amid President Joe Biden’s languid job approval ratings. But the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, is concerned enough about Lee’s prospects that it is now airing a statewide TV and cable spot attacking McMullin as a closet liberal. McMullin has pledged not to caucus with Democrats or Republicans if he ousts Lee in November.

“What does Evan McMullin believe, and who pays for it?” says the voiceover of the Club for Growth ad as the spot opens, before going on to accuse him of using donations to political groups he controls to “advance a left-wing agenda.” The ad was written by Republican consultant Andy Sere. Republican strategist Jeff Roe, who advises Lee’s close friend Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), placed the media buy.


Club for Growth officials decided to invest on Lee’s behalf, a group spokesperson said, “because the Senate Leadership Fund cannot be trusted to protect conservatives.” Roe added: “Evan McMullin’s fantastic land of falls and ladders is coming to an end. His true record will soon be known to all.”

The Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), focuses on bolstering Republicans running in Senate battlegrounds such as Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania. And last Thursday, McConnell’s super PAC announced it would spend $28 million in Ohio to support GOP Senate nominee JD Vance, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

The Utah race is unique. After McMullin stepped in and gained ground, Utah Democrats essentially walked away and threw their support behind a candidate who gained national prominence as a “Never Trump” Republican.

In 2016, McMullin mounted a quixotic eleventh-hour presidential bid, as a conservative independent, in an effort to thwart Trump from an Electoral College victory. McMullin’s campaign failed, but he emerged from the effort a figurehead of Never Trump and launched political groups to generate a pushback to the 45th president’s takeover of the GOP.


McMullin entered July with $1.3 million in cash. Lee, running for a third term, brought in $2.5 million.