Independent may make history in Utah

Independent may make history in Utah
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Evan McMullin just might become the first person since 1968 to win a state while not running as either the Republican or Democratic nominee.

McMullin, a conservative who is running as an independent opposed to both Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump takes aim at media after 'hereby' ordering US businesses out of China Trump knocks news of CNN hiring ex-FBI official McCabe Taylor Swift says Trump is 'gaslighting the American public' MORE and Republican Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE, is in a solid position to win his home state of Utah.

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“I do think he is an incredibly strong position to win the state,” said Boyd Matheson, president of conservative Utah think tank the Sutherland Institute and former chief of staff to Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeA cash advance to consider McConnell, allies lean into Twitter, media 'war' Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing MORE (R-Utah).

A poll published Tuesday by the Salt Lake City-based Y2 Analytics found Trump and Clinton tied at 26 percent in Utah. McMullin took 22 percent — within the margin of error of 4.4 percent.

McMullin is uniquely positioned to do well in the largely Republican and Mormon state. He’s a Mormon himself with conservative bona fides in a state that hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1964.

Polls suggest Mormons have long been uncomfortable with Trump.

A 2005 tape of Trump speaking lewdly about groping and kissing women — and subsequent reports from women who say they’ve been attacked by Trump — appear to have been a breaking point.

“The best way I can describe it is when someone has a fever and they’re flailing about and they’re frustrated and then the fever breaks,” said Matheson. “The country has been in fever, and I think Utah, because it has a great economy and civil society, that fever broke here first.

George Wallace is the last political independent to win a state. In 1968, he took five states, all in the South, and 46 electoral votes with a message of racial segregation.

Polls have shown Libertarian candidate Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonTrump challenger: 'All bets are off' if I win New Hampshire primary Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump Progressive Democrats' turnout plans simply don't add up MORE winning a large share of votes in New Mexico, but it appears that MuMullin in Utah might be the best shot for a third-party candidate in this election.

It’s possible the Y2 poll represents a high-water mark for McMullin, who has struggled to win attention for his campaign.

Later in the week, a Monmouth poll of Utah found McMullin further behind, at 20 percent compared to Trump’s 34 percent and Clinton’s 28 percent.

Still, McMullin has the highest favorability among the three candidates in the Monmouth poll. McMullin got 28 percent favorability, compared to Trump’s 19 percent and Clinton’s 25 percent.

If he has a problem, it is that many voters don’t know who he is.

Most respondents gave Trump and Clinton unfavorable marks, while for McMullin most said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion.

Just 6 percent had an unfavorable view of McMullin, compared with 66 percent who said they didn’t know enough about him.

In response to the Y2 poll, McMullin released a statement exuding confidence and suggested he hopes to move his support beyond his home state.

“What we kept hearing would be impossible, has now happened,” McMullin said. “I look forward to the work we can and will do with the help of the state of Utah in the final weeks leading up to Election Day. This is just the beginning and we will continue to grow our movement well beyond Utah.”

McMullin was an undercover operations officer in the CIA’s national clandestine service from 2001 to 2011. In that role, he worked on counterterrorism and intelligence operations in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

After the CIA, he worked a couple years in the investment banking division at Goldman Sachs.

In 2013, he joined the House Foreign Relations Committee as a senior advisor. In 2015, he became chief policy director of the House Republican Conference, from which he resigned shortly before announcing his presidential run in August.

McMullin is only on the ballot in 11 states: Utah, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, South Carolina and Virginia.

He’s focused most of his attention on Utah. He was born there, went to Brigham Young University for his bachelor’s degree and went on a mission to southern Brazil after high school, fulfilling a duty to his church.

Matheson said McMullin’s appeal goes beyond religion or home court advantage; it’s about his conservative values.

“One other thing that I think really resonates in the state of Utah, probably more than most places, is Utah rejects the idea of choosing between the lesser of two evils,” Matheson added. “He’s tapped into that.”

Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said the un-endorsements of Trump by leading Utah Republicans have also signaled to Utah voters that it’s OK to vote for someone else.

After the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video of Trump surfaced last week, Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges MORE and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert both rescinded their endorsements. Rep. Mia Love and former presidential candidate and Gov. Jon Huntsman called for Trump to drop out. And Lee and favorite son Mitt Romney never endorsed Trump in the first place.

Voters looking for an alternative are gravitating toward McMullin rather than other third-party candidates such as Johnson because McMullin better aligns with their values, Karpowitz said. For example, Johnson is weak on foreign policy, favors legalizing marijuana and has made comments on religious liberty laws that angered Mormons.

“I think McMullin is trying to position himself as a conservative for whom it’s safe for disillusioned Republicans to vote,” Karpowitz said. “He’s trying to occupy that space on economic issues. He favors a strong national defense. He’s socially conservative, as well. He’s trying to hit all of those high points.”

Jason Perry, director at the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, is more skeptical of McMullin’s chances to win Utah.

“I still think his chances are remote,” Perry said. “But there has been a perfect storm over this last week.”

Also unlikely is McMullin winning any other states. Matheson at the Sutherland Institute pegged McMullin’s next best chance to win in Idaho, which he said has a similar economy and demographics to Utah.

“I think the American fever broke in Utah first, and it’ll be very interesting if that continues on to Idaho,” he said. “He obviously still has a big mountain to climb. The next five days are his magic window.”

Karpowitz said he doesn’t think McMullin can win any other states, but said he might be able to siphon off enough votes from Trump that Clinton wins a reliably red state such as Arizona, where McMullin’s an approved write-in candidate.

And if McMullin does win Utah or at least has a good showing, he’ll be in a better position for any future political campaigns.

“If part of the way he got in the race when he did was to get his name out there, he’s done a great job at that,” Perry said. “We’re not done seeing Evan McMullin.”