Webb Wrap: 2022 cycle begins . . . could Mike Lee have opposition?

So, the question is, will he face a serious challenge from within his own party?

Probably not, but that won’t stop me from speculating.

In 2016, a couple of prominent Republicans considered running against Lee in his first re-election. A handful of business leaders thought about recruiting a candidate. None of those threats materialized, and Lee cruised to his second term.

I’m hearing similar rumblings as the 2022 cycle begins. Lee doesn’t enjoy great approval ratings and there is talk that he might be vulnerable. Lee is a pro-Trump ideological conservative and he has rankled some more moderate Republicans.

One person who is starting to get some attention is Tanner Ainge, a Utah County commissioner who is carving out a name for himself as a moderate Republican who isn’t afraid to take on tough issues or the far right.

Ainge shut down a county meeting when people showed up not wearing masks. He championed a much-needed (in my opinion) tax increase. He supported a good proposal to modernize county government (which lost in the recent election). And he’s been vocal in his criticism of Pres. Trump for not conceding and has chided Republicans who go along with Trump.

And during the GOP gubernatorial primary, at least once candidate, Thomas Wright, was encouraged to drop out and consider running against Lee.

But talk is easy; taking on an incumbent U.S. senator is very difficult, as some Republicans learned in Lee’s first re-election. Lee would have great support from conservative groups and most of his Senate colleagues, and would raise a lot of money.

Could a more moderate Republican win the GOP primary against Lee? The lessons of the recent election are contradictory.

Moderate Spencer Cox won the GOP primary for governor against some strongly conservative opponents, namely Greg Hughes and Wright. And Blake Moore, who appears to be quite moderate, defeated more conservative Republicans in the 1st Congressional District primary.  In addition, it’s important to remember that moderate Mitt Romney won a Senate seat in 2018.

On the other hand, ideological conservative Burgess Owens defeated moderate Democrat Ben McAdams in Utah’s most moderate congressional district.

Someone like Ainge could try to model the Cox or Romney wins. However, a run for the Senate isn’t like running for governor. A Senate race occurs in the context of national politics, which is more ideological and divided.

It is obviously very early in the 2022 cycle, but not too early. A non-incumbent who doesn’t get started on the non-visible parts of a statewide campaign at least 20 months before election day is going to be behind.

I think it’s going to be extremely difficult for anyone to mount a serious campaign against Lee, let alone defeat him. But Lee ought not to take anything for granted. When members of Congress become consumed with Washington and start to think they own the seat, and lose touch with local leaders and constituents, that’s when they lose.

Interesting Read. How are U.S. House Democrats taking the loss of perhaps 10-12 seats? The Hill takes a look at some of the infighting.

Reader Response. Astrid Campbell: I read the guest opinion written by Jared Whitley on the topic “Is America divided beyond repair?” I found that article to be very subjective. He “proves” that the Democrats are at fault for wanting to cause the deterioration of the country and sites a Pew Research study as scientific evidence for such. I went to the link he cited and found a good deal of useful, objective information on where our party divisions lie but nothing that supports his argument. (I do wish to thank Jared for the link.)

After reading the article I feel he is a major supporter of division of the country, not the slightest bit interested in overcoming or understanding the division.

Parting Shot. Utah Democrats had a very tough election, but losing candidates have been very gracious in conceding defeat, despite hard-fought campaigns. Donald Trump could take a lesson. Congressman Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Council Member Shireen Ghorbani, for example, both made classy statements and congratulated their opponents. McAdams called Burgess Owens and pledged full cooperation in the congressional transition. Ghorbani said, “I congratulate Laurie Stringham as the next Salt Lake County Councilwoman in this seat. Her success is the county’s success . . .”

I suspect there will be political opportunities ahead for McAdams and Ghorbani. They are both talented politicians. We will see more of them in the future.

If you have a comment, an item you think should be publicized, or just want to tell me I’m an idiot, shoot me a message at [email protected].