Analysis: GOP hopefuls are testing the water against Mike Lee in 2022


Sen. Mike Lee is clearly favored to win re-election next year. But he’s going to have competition, not just from a Democratic opponent, but also for the Republican nomination. The field is certainly not set, but indications are that Lee will face more than just token opposition.

For example, Ally Isom, a Republican from the party’s more moderate wing, is seriously considering challenging Lee. She has an impressive resume and a strong array of relationships and contacts. Former state Rep. Becky Edwards, North Salt Lake, who served five terms in the Utah House, is also said to be considering the race.

And a young newcomer with a familiar name – Henry Eyring – is also busily testing the waters. And there could be others.  

While I believe Lee is clearly the frontrunner, he’s going to be seriously challenged. At this point, Isom is probably the strongest of Lee’s possible GOP opponents. But it’s very early.

Lee is a solid conservative, a champion for limited government, low taxes and constitutional principles. While he’s a strong conservative, he’s not given to name-calling and harsh rhetoric against his liberal opponents, like some of his more combative conservative associates.

Like many conservatives, Lee didn’t initially like Donald Trump and he fought his nomination. But once Trump was in office Lee generally supported Trump’s conservative policies and became one of the president’s defenders, although he differed with the president on a few occasions. He especially liked Trump’s judicial nominations.

Lee does not have an especially warm and outgoing personality and, in speeches and debates, he can sometimes sound rather scholarly and legalistic. His approval ratings have not been great over the years. The average Utahn may have a hard time relating to him.

But Lee will be strongly supported by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and by conservative PACS like Club for Growth. He will have plenty of money to run an aggressive re-election campaign. And most strong Trump supporters will likely be with him.

Isom has 27 years of experience in the political and communications worlds, focusing on strategy, policy, communications, branding, public engagement and campaign management.

She worked for Gov. Gary Herbert for three years as his deputy chief of staff, communications director and spokesperson. Then she worked for six years in the public affairs department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a number of positions, including director, global identity and messaging; director, family and community relations; and senior manager for public affairs strategic initiatives. Isom is currently working as chief strategy and marketing officer for the high-tech firm EVOQ Nano.

Meanwhile, it’s worth keeping an eye on Henry Eyring, a young but very smart and capable political newcomer. He’s a business management accountant and academic who has worked with nonprofits, including University of Utah Health Care on improving quality and reducing costs in the public sector. He’s the grandson of Pres. Henry Eyring, who is in the first presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After spending some time abroad teaching at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Eyring is expected to return home and seriously test the waters.

Isom, Eyring and Edwards would all likely be viewed as more moderate than Lee. But all would call themselves conservatives, more in the mold of Congressman Blake Moore, Sen. Mitt Romney and Congressman John Curtis. You could make the argument that half of Utah’s members of Congress are fairly moderate. And, of course, Gov. Spencer Cox is viewed as a moderate.

So, it’s certainly not unprecedented for a Utah moderate to win a Utah congressional seat or major office. However, it’s very important to remember that none of the aforementioned defeated an incumbent. That’s a critical distinction.

Upsetting Lee in the Republican primary will be immensely difficult, especially if a handful of moderate candidates split the moderate vote.