- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Independent conservative presidential candidate Evan McMullin readily acknowledges he faces long odds in his long-shot White House bid that essentially counts on denying any one candidate 270 Electoral College votes and throwing things to the U.S. House at this point.

But he said positive signs he’s seen since announcing past GOP Hill staffer Mindy Finn as his running mate last week and Republican nominee Donald Trump’s recent slide in the polls give him optimism heading into the campaign’s final stretch.

Mr. McMullin’s best chance to play spoiler is in Utah, where a stunning new Deseret News poll this week showed the former Capitol Hill staffer, who is Mormon, surging into a statistical tie with Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton. The state has voted for the Republican presidential candidate in every election since 1968.

He said people will be able to vote for him in more than 40 states by Election Day, and claimed interest has surged “tenfold” in the last week. That covers not only his announcement of Ms. Finn as his running mate, but also the fallout from the Friday release of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which Mr. Trump talks about using his celebrity status to force himself onto women.

“We are only two months into this thing. We started from zero in so many ways,” Mr. McMullin told The Washington Times this week.

In addition to making a legitimate push to try to compete in as many states as he can, Mr. McMullin has colored his candidacy with a distinct anti-Trump tinge. He said another goal of his late entry into the race in August was to lay down a marker for a “new generation of leadership” and a “new conservative movement” at a time when doing so presented all sorts of logistical and political roadblocks.

He says he wants to give voters an alternative on policy and temperament, and said it’s up to committed conservatives to make a statement by abandoning Mr. Trump now, when it matters.

“If you won’t stand up for the fact that all of us are equal, all of us are created equal now when it’s hard, what credibility do you have after November 8th?” he said. “Are you going to stand up then and say well that was all wrong, we shouldn’t have gone down that road?”

Nationally, Mr. McMullin is struggling. Most polls don’t ask his name, and those that do show him with minimal support. He’s also competing with Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein as alternatives for voters looking to avoid the Democrat and the Republican.

Mr. Johnson is doing the best of the three, but has sputtered recently. The former two-term New Mexico governor stumbled over foreign policy questions, earning disappointing headlines.

Mr. McMullin says Mr. Johnson’s stances on religious liberty and taxes also make him a suspect libertarian. Mr. Johnson has favored a sales tax to replace the income tax and made comments over the summer that seemed skeptical of state-passed religious freedom laws.

“If Gary Johnson were a real libertarian, I probably wouldn’t be doing this,” Mr. McMullin said.

Like most long-shots, Mr. McMullin says he wants to win outright, but acknowledges a more likely scenario could be trying to keep either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump from winning a majority of 270 electoral college votes, which would throw the election to the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

“These are long odds, but we knew this going into it. We knew that if we didn’t get into it, we would have no odds, no chance,” he said.

A strong showing in traditionally deep-red Utah could put a dent in Mr. Trump’s total, and Mr. McMullin said he’s also targeting states like Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Virginia, and Arizona. All of those states except Arizona were carried twice by President Obama.

Mr. Trump has campaigned on a nationalist theme that Americans are getting ripped off, whether it’s on trade deals, illegal immigration, or other countries’ reliance on the U.S. in international pacts like NATO.

Ms. Finn acknowledged such a message could have resonance with Americans down on their luck who feel let down by their political leaders, and that Mr. Trump has certainly “triggered something” within the broader Republican party.

“If communities are left behind, that’s actually one thing that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have exposed that’s a real positive in this election cycle,” she said.

More recently, she said Mr. Trump has been using intimidation to try to hold onto some of his support amid the release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video and other developments, such as the disclosure that he took a $916 million net operating loss on his 1995 tax return.

“People are legitimately fearful. They played right into his con and his ability to be a manipulator and were afraid that he would kind of come after them or he would force them to lose when they were running for Congress,” Ms. Finn said.

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