Fox News offered to host a US Senate debate in Utah. Evan McMullin said yes. Mike Lee said no.

Lee’s campaign said they agreed to a one-on-one interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier but not a joint appearance with McMullin.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) From left, Senator Mike Lee and independent challenger Evan McMullin participate in a pre-US Senate debate at Utah Valley University on Wednesday, October 17, 2022.

Incumbent Republican Senator Mike Lee has declined an opportunity to participate in a nationally televised debate hosted by Fox News with independent challenger Evan McMullin.

While Lee has made several one-man appearances on Fox News in recent weeks to rally support for his unexpectedly narrow reelection bid and to attack his opponent, the senator turned down the opportunity to appear on national programming alongside his competition.

Fox News anchor Bret Baier contacted both the Lee and McMullin campaigns the same week the two men took the stage for the Utah Debate Commission-sponsored US Senate debate. Baier’s team proposed bringing the “Special Report with Bret Baier” program to Utah on November 1st.

McMullin’s campaign told The Salt Lake Tribune that they had spoken to Baier and his production staff several times about the offer and agreed to a second debate with Lee during an Oct. 21 phone call with Baier. Later that same day, Baier called back to inform McMullin that Lee had turned it down, the campaign said.

A Fox News spokesman confirmed that McMullin accepted her offer to debate and that Lee declined to attend.

A spokesman for Lee’s campaign said Baier’s first pitch was either a joint appearance with McMullin or back-to-back one-on-one meetings with the two candidates. They told Baier they would only agree to a separate interview.

According to an email shared by The Tribune from McMullin’s campaign, Baier’s team’s first pitch suggested “a debate or town hall.” The email makes no mention of separate one-on-one meetings.

Lee’s campaign declined to comment on the record.

Fox News programming has been friendly territory for Lee lately.

Earlier this month, Lee appeared as a guest on Tucker Carlson’s primetime show, where he asked Mitt Romney for his approval, and recently sat down with Fox News Sunday for an interview. On Tuesday night, Lee traveled to Las Vegas to attend a Fox News Town Hall for US Senate nominee Adam Laxalt, hosted by Sean Hannity.

In a statement to The Tribune, McMullin harshly criticized Lee’s decision to dismiss the debate.

“It’s a shame Senator Lee doesn’t find time to debate me on Fox News. The Utahns deserve full treatment of the issues in this race, but the Utahns won’t get that chance because Senator Lee won’t show up to defend his record,” McMullin said.

“I hope Senator Lee reconsiders his refusal to debate,” McMullin added.

The possibility of Baier coming to Utah on November 1 is off the table. Instead, he and Fox News anchor Martha McCallum will host a town hall in Ohio with Republican US Senate nominee JD Vance and Democrat Tim Ryan.

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