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Independent Evan McMullin – in dead heat with Trump and Clinton in Utah – makes campaign push into Idaho

Presidential candidate Evan McMullin (Courtesy of Evan McMullin)

Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, a Mormon who’s offering himself as a conservative alternative to Donald Trump, had such large, overflow crowds at his two eastern Idaho rallies last weekend that both had to be moved to larger venues.

McMullin, who is on the ballot in 11 states including Idaho, drew 500 people in Idaho Falls last weekend, and more than 1,000 a day later in Rexburg. But Idaho Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, who himself is Mormon and lives in Rexburg, doesn’t see McMullin taking off in Idaho the way he has in Utah – where recent polls show him pulling to within striking distance of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“It’s a possibility in Utah,” said Hill, a Republican. “I don’t think it’s a likelihood in Idaho.”

McMullin’s recent strong polling in Utah has given rise to speculation about a scenario in which he’d win some electoral votes and throw a close Clinton-Trump race into a deadlock in the Electoral College. That would move the contest to the U.S. House, where many Republicans have disavowed Trump over his videotaped comments boasting about sexually assaulting women, and give McMullin a shot.

McMullin, who is one of six minor party or independent candidates on the Idaho ballot, told the Idaho Falls crowd it’s “unlikely” he could win the presidency. “But we could win a state or two or three,” he said, according to the Idaho Falls Post Register. Trump and Clinton are “both so combustible that anything is possible in this election,” McMullin said.

McMullin, 40, is a Utah native, Brigham Young University graduate, former CIA officer and former policy director for the House Republican Conference. When he announced his candidacy in August, he said Americans had lost faith in the both major-party candidates.

“It’s time for a generation of new leadership to step up,” he said. “America deserves much better than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton can offer us.”

Rina Shah, McMullin’s campaign spokeswoman, said, “Idaho is a top priority to our campaign.”

Jim Weatherby, Boise State University emeritus professor, said, “I think it’s an interesting campaign, where McMullin could make a stronger case for his conservative credentials over and against Trump’s.”

But he noted that no independent candidate for president has won a state since George Wallace in 1968. Wallace, who ran on a pro-segregation platform, carried five southern states.

Utah Republicans – particularly those who are members of the Mormon Church – have been rejecting Trump in large numbers, led by Gov. Gary Herbert and two GOP members of Congress. That’s provided an opening for McMullin, in a state where 63 percent of the population is Mormon.

In Idaho, 27 percent of residents are Mormon.

“He certainly got a warm reception here in Rexburg,” said Hill, where the event was moved to the Rexburg Tabernacle, which filled so full that hundreds were turned away.

But Hill said he’s sticking with Trump. Recent Utah polls show Trump and Clinton in a deadlock with McMullin fast creeping up; but Idaho polls have consistently shown Trump heavily favored to win the state’s four electoral votes. Idaho hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964.

While calling Trump “disgusting,” Hill said, “I cannot defend Hillary Clinton either. … Her political ideology is completely contrary to the principles I have always defended.”

Hill said he considers Trump “the only thing we have to keep Clinton out of the White House.”

Shah said the McMullin campaign doesn’t buy that.

“Our vote is our voice,” she said.

McMullin has even suggested he may form a new conservative third party.

“There have been some very substantive conversations happening on this,” Shah said.

McMullin told the Idaho Falls crowd, “We’ve got to start voting for people that we actually want to see in office.”