The Club for Growth is on television in Utah with $2.5 million in advertising to provide air cover for Sen. Mike Lee (R), who is fending off an unexpectedly 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 languishing job approval ratings. But the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, is worried enough about Lee’s prospects that it is now airing a television spot statewide, on broadcast and cable, attacking McMullin as a closet liberal. McMullin has pledged not to caucus with the Democrats or Republicans should he oust Lee in November.
“What does Evan McMullin believe, and who’s paying him?” the voice-over in the Club for Growth ad says as the spot opens, before going on to accuse him of using donations to political groups he controls to “push 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.
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Club for Growth officials decided to invest on Lee’s behalf, a spokesman for the group said, “because Senate Leadership Fund can’t be trusted to protect conservatives.” Added Roe: “Evan McMullin’s chutes and ladders fantasy land is coming to an end. His real record will be known by all soon.”
Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), is focused on boosting Republicans running in Senate battlegrounds such as Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. And just Thursday, McConnell’s super PAC announced it would spend $28 million in Ohio to bolster GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
The Utah race is unique. After McMullin jumped in and gained some traction, Utah Democrats essentially stood down and threw their support behind a candidate who rose to 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 block Trump from an Electoral College victory. McMullin’s campaign ran aground, but he emerged from the effort a leading Never Trump figure and launched political groups to generate pushback to the 45th president’s takeover of the GOP.
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McMullin entered July with $1.3 million in cash on hand. Lee, running for a third term, reported $2.5 million.