- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Some of Utah’s top Republicans urged their fellow conservatives on Tuesday to unite around Donald Trump amid fears a surging third-party candidate is siphoning off votes from the billionaire in the solidly red state.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart, and others spoke at a rally inside Utah’s Capitol attended by about 150 supporters decked out with Trump campaign signs, shirts, and stickers.

Hatch said Trump “doesn’t take any crap from anybody,” and “he’s exactly what we need.”

Stewart, who earlier this year called Trump “our Mussolini” and denounced Trump’s vulgar comments about women, said that when he received his ballot, he wasn’t immediately ready to cast his vote for Trump.

But now, Stewart said, “it’s time for Republicans to come home” and support the party’s nominee. That echoes comments made last week by Trump’s running mate Mike Pence at a rally in Utah.

Trump has been unpopular with many Utah Republicans and Mormons who’ve been turned off by his brash demeanor and comments about women, minorities and Muslims.

Many of those voters say they also can’t stomach the thought of voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton and are instead turning to third-party candidates such as Evan McMullin, a Mormon and former CIA agent who has surged in recent Utah polls.

Several speakers at Tuesday’s rally said a third-party vote is unrealistic and will clear the way for Clinton to win.

“Evan McMullin, you are not Utah’s savior. In fact, you are stealing votes from the moral choice and giving them to the crooked choice,” said Cherilyn Bacon Eagar, a conservative radio show host and blogger.

It’s a two-party election, she said, and, “Jesus is not on the ballot.”

Enid Mickelsen, a former Utah congresswoman and national committeewoman for Utah’s GOP, said she didn’t like what she heard on a 2005 recording in which Trump boasted of groping and kissing women.

When the tape came out, she considered “a protest vote,” for a third-party candidate, but she said the race is too close for Republicans to vote for someone such as McMullin.

Mickelsen said the way Clinton handled the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, her private email server and accusations by women of sexual impropriety by her husband were worse than Trump’s comments.

Mickelsen did not offer specifics, but Trump has claimed with thin evidence that Clinton intimidated the women.

Stewart, a member of the U.S. House intelligence committee, said he’s read Clinton’s emails, has watched her deceive people about them and said she has not earned the American people’s trust. The crowd responded with chants of “Lock her up!”

Stewart said the expectation that the next president will be filling several seats on the U.S. Supreme Court is reason enough to vote for Trump.

Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans addressed a robo call in Utah from a white nationalist Trump supporter who called McMullin a “closet homosexual” and “open-borders amnesty supporter.”

“If anyone believes that Donald Trump would have anything to do with any sort of white nationalist, that’s just simply not true,” said Evans, who is black. “If that were the case, I wouldn’t be standing here.”

White nationalist William Johnson said Trump had nothing to do with the call, which went out to several hundred thousand Utah voters this week.

“We have no knowledge of these activities and strongly condemn any message of hate and any individuals associated with such,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement Tuesday.

Trump has faced criticism in the past for retweeting posts from the accounts of white supremacists and failing to immediately denounce the support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.

Other top Utah Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Mia Love, Sen. Mike Lee and Gov. Gary Herbert have said they will not vote for Trump.

___

Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.


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