Murray • In an extraordinary move on Saturday, Utah Democrats voted to back independent candidate Evan McMullin over Democrat Kael Weston to challenge the winner of the Republican primary later this year.
At the Utah Democratic Convention at Cottonwood High School in Murray, McMullin received 782 of the delegate’s votes, nearly 57%, to Weston’s 594 votes, according to preliminary results.
It’s an unprecedented measure for Utah’s Democrats, who grappled between party loyalty or backing an outsider to increase the likelihood of defeating a Republican in November. The Democrats were motivated by the prospect of unseating Sen. Mike Lee, who is running for his third term this year, and won the support of Republican around 75% of delegates at his party’s convention.
Lee still needs to defeat challengers Ally Isom and Becky Edwards in his June primary to face McMullin in the general election.
“Democrats are putting country over party,” McMullin said after the vote. “This is our democracy and, yes, it can be messy at times as we saw today, but it’s sure a heck of a lot better than the alternative.”
Weston said he accepted the outcome of what delegates decided and that it sparked an important dialogue.
“Of course, you want to be the candidate that walks out with a unanimous degree of support, but I knew this was always going to be an important conversation to have and I think with a great team, and a lot of supporters who drove from all across the state, it was a real conversation,” Weston said. “Today was a crossroads and a certain path was taken. It’s a path that has not been taken before.”
After a calm morning of introducing nominees for state races, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, a Democrat, made a motion to ask the party “to join Evan McMullin’s independent coalition to beat Mike Lee.”
For the next two hours, infighting, debate and insults between Democrats ensued.
Several delegates booed Wilson and a shouting match followed, prompting Utah Democratic Convention Chair Jeff Merchant to say he would not tolerate anyone speaking out of order. One delegate in the crowd, Rob Wabley, shouted “Shame on you!” and “Spineless!”
“We should put forward a Democrat,” the Vernal resident said.
“I understand that there are a lot of people that have a lot of opinions of this,” Merchant said, asking delegates to share their opinion at a microphone.
After a pair of short recesses, Wilson amended her motion to offer delegates an option; either nominate uncontested Weston or the party should join McMullin’s independent coalition. Both Weston and McMullin’s campaigns approved of the language.
Lee looms large over Democrats
In his opening remarks, Merchant told the crowded high school auditorium that he felt honored to be part of what “will be both a historic and exciting day today.”
It’s been more than half a century since a Democrat was elected as a U.S. Senator to represent Utah. While several booths at the convention focused on…