Evan McMullin presidential campaign changes Utah politics

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In this Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 photo, Evan McMullin, a conservative independent presidential candidate, speaks at a town hall meeting in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 photo, Evan McMullin, a conservative independent presidential candidate, speaks at a town hall meeting in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)

Independent candidate for the 2016 presidential election Evan McMullin has proven Utah voters may be more divided on political issues than expected by making Utah a presidential battleground for the first time in 50 years.

Depending on the poll, McMullin’s polling numbers land anywhere from one percentage point above Hillary Clinton to eight percentage points behind. Likewise, McMullin’s polling numbers compared with Donald Trump’s are anywhere between 1 to 17 percentage points behind Trump.

The most recent polls, however, indicate a more competitive political landscape in Utah.

McMullin’s recent popularity suggests some Utah voters believe he is a viable candidate for the presidency. McMullin shared why voters should vote for an independent candidate rather than candidates from the other two major parties while at his campaign kickoff speech on Wednesday, August 10, in Salt Lake City where he officially declared his candidacy for President of the United States.

In this Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 photo, people line up to have their photo taken with Evan McMullin, a conservative independent presidential candidate, after a town hall meeting in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)
People line up to have their photo taken with Evan McMullin, the conservative independent presidential candidate, showing their support after at town hall meeting in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)

“In a year where Americans have lost faith in the candidates of both major parties, it’s time for a generation of new leadership to step up,” McMullin said. “It’s never too late to do the right thing, and America deserves much better than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can offer us. I humbly offer myself as a leader who can give millions of disaffected Americans a better choice for President.”

Ammon Gruwell, a BYU computer engineering graduate student, said the reason for McMullin’s recent rise in the polls lies within the Republican Party’s decision to support someone with values much different than those of many Utah voters.

“Utah’s rejection of Trump isn’t a childish desire to be different or a blind endorsement of the Mormon candidate, it’s a reflection of our most cherished values and a declaration of who we are as a people,” Gruwell said. “Utah isn’t the one abandoning the Republican Party, the Republican Party has abandoned Utah by embracing someone whose values are so antithetical to our own.”

Rick Bowmer
Independent candidate Evan McMullin speaks during a rally on Oct. 21 in Draper, Utah. Two months after he jumped into the presidential race as a political unknown, McMullin is surging in Utah polls and drawing large crowds at rallies as he becomes an alternative for conservative voters who disagree with with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s antics. (Associated Press)

Utah has voted Republican in the presidential race for about 50 years. This election, however, has loosened the Republican Party’s hold on Utah.

The Deseret News, a news organization that has not endorsed a presidential candidate for the last 80 years, declared it will not support Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as someone with values contrary to the church’s beliefs.

“We prefer to stand for something rather than against someone,” the Deseret News Editorial states. “But this is one of those rare moments where it is necessary to take a clear stand against the hucksterism, misogyny, narcissism and latent despotism that infect the Trump campaign even as we hope for a more auspicious future of liberty, prosperity and peace for the nation.”

The decisions of many voters are split between Trump and other major candidates. Utah polls indicate both Evan McMullin and Hillary Clinton may have a solid chance at winning Utah’s six electoral votes.

However, McMullin’s chance of becoming president may be much more difficult since he only has ballot access of 87 electoral votes in twelve states and can be written-in on 27 ballots of other states.

McMullin’s campaign goal is to prevent each major party candidate from reaching 270 votes and send the election to the House of Representatives, according to an official blog post from the Evan McMullin campaign. This would allow the House of Representatives to choose the next President of the United States, according to the 12th Amendment.

Rick Bowmer
Supporters for Independent candidate Evan McMullin show their support during a rally on Oct. 21 in Draper, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Joel Searby, a Republican strategist, believes McMullin has a chance at becoming president of the United States by being seen as the “compromise candidate,” according to his blog post on McMullin’s official campaign website.

“In order to achieve this, we must win some electoral votes and show the country, and the House, that there is a desire for a compromise candidate,” the blog post states. “Once in the House, against the backdrop of Trump and Clinton’s deeply divisive positions and after a strong electoral college showing, we believe Evan’s unifying message can prevail.”

Many individuals, McMullin included, have been calling him the “true conservative candidate.” Another function of his campaign seems to be leading a new generation of true conservative values.

Kelsey Witt, McMullin’s Utah Communications Director, said the McMullin campaign’s first commitment is to win the 2016 presidential election.

“There is no doubt this country is in desperate need of a new generation of leadership dedicated to true conservative values,” Witt said. “However, both major party nominees are a threat to our democracy. Stopping Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump from winning the presidency, as well as leading a new movement of true conservative values, are both significant priorities of the campaign.”

Even if McMullin loses the presidential race in Utah, BYU professor Jeremy Pope, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, believes McMullin could still be a major political leader in the future.

“It would mean that the state had rejected Trump. No other typically Republican state will be in that position,” Pope said. “As for Utah, it makes McMullin a player from this point moving forward. I have no idea what his ambitions are, but he may run for another Utah office one day. This is a good springboard.”

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