“I’m glad that you finally committed to debate me, Mike. Utahns deserve a chance to hear from both of us. Our campaign met the deadline—the ball is in your court now,” McMullin wrote on Twitter, referring to a Monday deadline he said was set by the state’s Debate Commission.
Lee defeated his Republican challengers in the GOP primary for the seat earlier this year and has been leading McMullin in some polling, but the sitting senator and the independent challenger have yet to go head-to-head in debate.
As reported in local outlet KUTV, in the lead-up to the primary Lee attended a Utah GOP-sponsored debate but skipped one hosted by the non-partisan Utah Debate Commission, where an empty podium stood on the debate stage in his place.
“I look forward to debating Evan McMullin on the important issues facing our country. My team has been working with the Debate Commission to secure a date, and I can assure you we will come up with a time that works,” Lee wrote on Twitter Thursday when McMullin confronted him about the Debate Commission’s upcoming deadline.
Independent McMullin, who made a third-party bid for the presidency in 2016, was backed by Utah Democrats earlier this year in a rare move aimed at ousting the Republican incumbent.
Lee, endorsed by former President Trump, has held the Senate seat since 2011. The Hill has reached out to Lee’s campaign and the Utah Debate Commission for comment.
Lee is “slow-walking debate negotiations” in the face of “a neck-and-neck reelection challenge” from McMullin, a spokesperson for McMullin’s campaign told The Hill in a statement.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report last week changed its rating for the Utah Senate race from “Solid R” to “Likely R.” Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the election handicapper from the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, amended its “Safe Republican” rating to “Likely Republican” after the June primaries.