The Utah Democratic candidate vying to face incumbent Sen. Mike Lee won’t appear on the November ballot after state party delegates voted to back independent candidate Evan McMullin instead.

In a 782-594 vote, the move marks the first time Utah Democrats have opted not to advance a candidate from their own party as delegates booted Kael Weston from the ballot, who was uncontested but needed the state party to vote to advance him during its convention on Saturday to become the nominee. The former State Department diplomat denounced the decision, calling it an act of disenfranchisement against Democratic voters in the state.

"Whatever happens, it's incredibly important that the Utah Democratic Party understands there are a lot of voters in this state who right now feel like their vote doesn't matter," Weston told the Deseret News before the results were announced. "This election does matter. Mike Lee is beatable, and how we beat him is not going to take just some of us but all of us."


The vote effectively solidifies the November election as a two-way race between Lee and McMullin, a onetime Republican who ran an unsuccessful presidential bid against Donald Trump in 2016 and is Lee’s top challenger.

High-profile state Democrats such as former Rep. Ben McAdams and Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson made an appeal to state delegates on Saturday, conceding the party has an uphill battle trying to unseat a Republican senator in the reliably red state.

“Today Utah Democrats voted to join Evan McMullin’s independent coalition and NOT nominate a candidate for U.S. Senate I’m proud to be part of this coalition,” McAdams tweeted after the vote was announced. “Together we can win this race and defeat Mike Lee.”

McMullin attempted to persuade Utah Democrats that he was the best choice for their party, telling delegates that he wishes to unite both sides of the aisle to create a bipartisan coalition. This pitch may prove successful because, although it’s a reliably red state, Republicans in Utah remain hesitant to back the former president, which may complicate Lee’s reelection bid because he is seen as one of Trump’s strong allies.

However, by not advancing a Democratic candidate, the state party may actually impede voter turnout, as Democratic voters are less likely to head to the polls on Election Day if they are not represented, Weston has argued.

"It doesn't take a lot of voters to stay home, because they feel like their choice has been taken away from them, for that winning coalition to get smaller," he told the Washington Examiner earlier this week. "We can't afford to have that happen, especially after the gerrymander."


Lee overwhelmingly won the Republican nomination during the state’s GOP convention Saturday. However, he will continue to face two opponents after they qualified for the primary ballot via signature gathering.

The incumbent has enjoyed a stable lead in polling over the last few months. About 43% of Utah voters said they would vote for Lee to take on a third term with only 19% saying they’d back McMullin, according to a recent Deseret News / Hinckley Institute of Politics survey. It’s unclear how these numbers will change before November with Weston out of the running.