Elections

Could Trump and Clinton lose to an independent candidate in Utah?

Evan McMullin, who's running for as an independent presidential bid, talks with the Deseret News and KSL editorial board in Salt Lake City. Donald Trump has shattered the normal Republican consensus in Utah even more so than he has nationwide, activating fault lines under a normally stable electorate largely unified by a single religion.
Evan McMullin, who's running for as an independent presidential bid, talks with the Deseret News and KSL editorial board in Salt Lake City. Donald Trump has shattered the normal Republican consensus in Utah even more so than he has nationwide, activating fault lines under a normally stable electorate largely unified by a single religion. AP

Utah has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964, but Donald Trump’s lewd comments about women have enraged socially conservative voters, and a little-known candidate could come out on top there.

Independent Evan McMullin and Hillary Clinton are virtually tied with Trump in Utah according to a new poll conducted by Salt Lake City firm Y2 Analytics.

McMullin, a 40-year-old former CIA officer and chief policy director for the House Republican Conference, describes himself as “principled, consistent and conservative” on his campaign website. He’s in favor of free trade and against abortion rights.

“I’m a conservative. I’m the only conservative in this race,” McMullin said to a Salt Lake City TV station. “I believe that Donald Trump is wholly unfit to be president. He’s not a conservative; his temperament is awful. He likes to attack the vulnerable.”

Trump and Clinton are tied with 26 percent support in the poll with McMullin close behind at 22 percent. Libertarian Gary Johnson takes 14 percent in the survey, conducted Oct. 10-11 with 500 likely voters in Utah. The survey’s margin of error is 4.4 percentage points.

McMullin, a Utah native and Mormon, presents himself as the “true conservative” alternative to Trump. His weakness – common among third party candidates – is that 48 percent of Utah voters don’t know him. But McMullin receives positive marks from the 52 percent of voters who do know him: Four out of five view him positively.

That’s in stark contrast to Clinton and Trump, as both have unfavorable ratings of 70 percent in Utah.

McMullin cannot win the presidency through the Electoral College since he is on the ballot in only 11 states. He announced his candidacy in August after some state deadlines passed. But voters can write in his name in 23 additional states.

That doesn’t mean McMullin’s presidential dreams are dead, but he must win Utah to siphon six electoral votes away from the two major candidates. If Trump or Clinton fails win a majority in the Electoral College, the president is chosen by the House of Representatives.

“A growing number of Americans are coming to the realization that Trump is more than just a political train wreck,” Republican strategist and McMullin campaign chief Rick Wilson wrote. “He’s a real threat to the nation.”

McMullin’s support in Utah is growing. Weeks after announcing his bid he took 9 percent in a Public Policy Polling survey and in September he garnered 12 percent in a poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates.

The recent surge comes as Utah Republicans are rejecting Trump. Gov. Gary Herbert and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, both Mormons, declared they will not vote for the Republican nominee. Chaffetz said he could not look his 15-year-old daughter in the eye if he voted for Trump.

“There’s a plausible path that Evan McMullin could win Utah,” said Boyd Matheson, president of the Sutherland Institute, a conservative Utah-based research organization.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Trump or Clinton, Utahns are saying, ‘No, that’s not what leadership looks like to us.’ ”

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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