Evan McMullin, the conservative Republican and former CIA officer making a late independent bid for the White House, is poised to get a boost from a new super PAC being formed by two GOP strategists with experience in third-party ballot access.
Kahlil Byrd, who served as chief executive of Americans Elect, a now-shuttered organization that sought to create a pathway for an independent presidential candidate in 2012, and Chris Ashby, a GOP campaign finance attorney who worked on that effort, are together launching a new super PAC called Stand Up America to support McMullin.
"We want to be the conduit for people to be able to stand up and not just support his candidacy, but the efforts of an independent to satisfy the American people’s need for something more than they have seen," Byrd told The Washington Post. "We are down to the two major party candidates, yet people are still looking for someone else."
Until recently, Byrd had been serving as an adviser to Better for America, a nonprofit group that was laying the groundwork for a third-party candidate to gain ballot access this year. When he heard that McMullin was planning to run, Byrd resigned from the organization over the weekend so he and Ashby could launch the super PAC, he said. They did not discuss their plans with McMullin, Byrd added.
The group faces a tight time frame in which to raise money and ramp up its operations. Byrd said the super PAC already has some financial commitments, which he declined to identify, adding that the organization plans to roll out a full political team later this week.
"The timeline is a quick one," Byrd acknowledged. "We need to be active and operating at a high clip by the time we get to Labor Day."
Indeed, McMullin's late start puts him at a severe disadvantage, as he is entering the race long after ballot access has closed in many states. But both Byrd and Ashby said there was sufficient time for the first-time candidate to gain sufficient ballot access to put him in reach of 270 electoral votes, both through states still accepting signatures and others where his campaign could sue to gain access.
Ashby said the super PAC will not be involved in ballot access efforts, but will instead focus on voter outreach using "all the tools at our disposal," including TV and digital ads, live events and grass-roots organizing.
"Our strategy will be focused on connecting and engaging the many millions of Americans who are hungry for another choice and an independent choice for president," Ashby said, adding: "Anything is possible this year, and we think this is possible. We are going to run an aggressive, independent campaign."
Until Monday, McMullin, who was policy director for the House Republican Conference, had little public presence. But Byrd, who first met the former CIA operative in 2011 when he came to present a reform proposal on congressional gerrymandering to Americans Elect, said he believes McMullin's independent candidacy will resonate.
"We’re at a moment where one of the significant parts of a candidate's experiences that American voters are examining is foreign policy and understanding America’s place in the world, and Evan has lived that, as operative in CIA and more recently working in Congress," Byrd said, adding that McMullin is "someone who is serious and stable and focused."