US Election 2016 News

Evan McMullin -- Utah's presidential wild card

Published: 05th November 2016 07:53 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th November 2016 07:53 AM   |  A+A-

By AFP

SALT LAKE CITY: Serious, discreet, polite -- Evan McMullin is the exact opposite of Donald Trump.

And the 40-year-old Mormon and ex-CIA operative is defying the odds as he offers conservatives in staunchly Republican Utah an alternative to the former reality TV star.

"I'm the only true conservative in this race," insists the Republican-turned-independent candidate who just weeks ago was an unknown on the campaign trail.

With only days to go before the US presidential election, McMullin is closing in on the Republican presidential nominee in Utah, which has turned into a battleground state.

Should McMullin win the vote in Utah, he would be the first non-Republican presidential candidate in 50 years to be elected in the majority-Mormon western US state.

As he seeks to make history, McMullin has been canvassing Utah, meeting with volunteers, holding question-answer sessions with Hispanic Americans and posing for souvenir photos.

With a trim build, blue eyes and a shaved head, McMullin has positioned himself as the white knight who can save America from "two highly corrupted, self-interested candidates not fit for office" -- that is Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Trump.

"Let's not let this state go to Donald Trump. Stand with us on principles, stand for liberty, equality for all races and religion in this country," he told a group of university students this week in Salt Lake City, the state capital.

His message has not fallen on deaf ears amid sexual assault allegations against Trump that have shocked this puritanical community.

Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric is also not sitting well with the faith-based values of Mormons who have often been persecuted and faced religious bias.

Mormons also hold more liberal views than other Christian groups toward immigration, with many of them traveling on missions each year around the globe, including to South America where the Mormon Church has many followers.

"Do you also want to build a wall on the border with Mexico?" one woman asked McMullin during a recent campaign rally.

"We have to secure the border, experts recommend a wall in some places, sensors in other places. But I don't think Mexico will pay for it," he answered to laughter.

"I'm against deporting 11 million undocumented people, to not disrupt families and our economy," he added, drawing applause from his audience.

But despite his conservative stand, McMullin is by no means conventional. He is single and has no kids at an age when many of his fellow Mormons are already grandparents.

His divorced mother married a woman. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, opposes homosexual marriage, saying a true marriage is only between a man and a woman.

- Death threats -

Born in Provo, Utah, the heartland of Mormon country, McMullin spent two years in Brazil on a mission for the church and then worked with refugees in Jordan before spending 11 years with the Central Intelligence Agency doing counterterrorism work.

After two years at the investment bank Goldman Sachs, he headed to Washington, becoming national security adviser for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and then chief policy director for the House Republican Conference.

McMullin put himself forward as a third-party candidate against Trump and Clinton in August with backing from a group of Republicans turned off by Trump's rhetoric.

His candidacy and rising popularity are likely to hurt Trump's prospects in Utah where McMullin could capture the six electoral votes at stake. 

In a tight race, that could prevent the two top candidates from clinching the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the White House.

Under the 12th Amendment of the US Constitution, it would then be up to members of Congress to vote for the next president.

Aware of the danger, Trump has been hitting out at McMullin, describing him as "this character that's running all over the state... going from coffee shop to coffee shop."

"You've never heard of me because while you were harassing women at beauty pageants, I was fighting terrorists abroad," McMullin, who has reported receiving death threats from Trump supporters, has retorted on Twitter.

Mitt Romney, the unsuccessful 2012 Republican nominee for the White House who is also a Mormon and part of the Never Trump movement, has yet to endorse a candidate in the race.

But he has given McMullin his list of supporters -- for a price -- and McMullin's running mate, Mindy Finn, has previously worked with Romney.

Though McMullin's campaign has managed to raise $1 million mainly from small contributions, he has not attracted big donors.

The independent candidate has said that after the election on Tuesday, he hopes to start "a new conservative movement" but it was not clear whether that would be within the "Grand Old Party" or on his own.

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