LEHI, Utah — Evan McMullin is not going to be elected president Tuesday. But his supporters don’t care about that at all. The voters following him around Utah in this final campaign stretch have a simple desire to find one candidate in the 2016 election who they can feel good about. For them, that’s more than enough.
The line for pictures and handshakes stretched around the corner when McMullin showed up for lunch today at the One Man Band diner on Main Street here in Lehi, about 30 minutes south of Salt Lake City. Dozens arrived wearing shirts or other swag touting the 40-year-old former CIA agent who had no real political experience or name recognition before he joined the race in August.
The polling in Utah is sparse. McMullin campaign staffers play down last week’s Monmouth poll, which had their candidate in third place behind Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Another poll by Y2 Analytics released at the same time had McMullin in second place, five points behind Trump. Both polls show McMullin running strong with younger voters and Mormons, which makes sense considering he is younger and Mormon. Still, he is an underdog here and a long shot for sure.
But for the vast majority of people I met Monday, none of that matters.
“Voting is not political chess. I want to vote for someone who I can actually support,” said Brad Haymond, a 41-year-old Republican from Orem, Utah. “I believe that my vote is sacred, I believe that my vote shows who I support, not who I’m against, not who I’m scared about.”
The McMullin voter base is not a monolith. Some, like Haymond, are Mormons who are simply repulsed by Trump and cannot support the social policies that Clinton would put in place.
“The Mormons that are here in Utah don’t believe in a man like Donald Trump,” Haymond said. “And most of the people in Utah are not interested in voting for Hillary Clinton in the first place.”
Other McMullin voters are angry at the Republican leadership for allowing the party to fall into Trump’s hands. They want to see some new political organization rise up and take its place, as McMullin has proposed.
“I was a Republican, I don’t consider myself a Republican anymore,” said Carolyn Taylor, 56, who traveled from Allen, Tex., to help get out the Utah vote for McMullin. “The party could have put their foot down and not allowed this to happen.”
Not everyone in Utah is happy with McMullin’s popularity. A Trump supporter crashed his lunch event and screamed about how McMullin was handing the state to Clinton, before being escorted out of the diner by security.
It’s true some pro-Clinton PACs are running ads in Utah targeting Trump and even appealing to the Mormon aversion to prejudice against minorities. But undecided voters who are taking a look at McMullin in the final hours of the campaign don’t want to be told they are wasting their votes.
“What I want is to feel good about the person I’m voting for, regardless of their chances of winning,” said Taleah Kear, 28, of American Fork, Utah, who is still undecided. “If more people stopped worrying so much about the overall outcome and just focused on what they believe in their heart, the world could be a lot different.”
Many voters at today’s event remarked this was the first year they could remember a presidential candidate doing old-fashioned retail politics in Utah. McMullin has about 22 paid staffers overall, but he is doing a lot of the heavy lifting himself, making several stops each day.
He has one day left to make his case. My informal poll at a downtown Salt Lake City bar Sunday evening revealed that his biggest challenge will be to get more Utahans to overcome their deep disdain for politics overall after what has been an ugly and negative campaign season.
Even the highway signs on Interstate 15 are darkly sarcastic about Tuesday’s election. On the way back into Salt Lake City, one reads: “Safety is the one candidate we can all live with.”