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New focus on Utah as poll shows Trump and Clinton tied, McMullin close behind

SHARE New focus on Utah as poll shows Trump and Clinton tied, McMullin close behind

SALT LAKE CITY — A new poll of Utah voters showing Republican Donald Trump tied with Democrat Hillary Clinton — and independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin closing in — is focusing new attention on the reliably GOP state.

"There's tons of interest," said Quin Monson, a founding partner of Y2 Analytics, the Salt Lake City-based firm behind the poll first reported online Tuesday by the Deseret News. "A lot of things are changing, and changing very quickly."

Monson, who was interviewed about the results by a number of major news outlets including CNN, said McMullin is likely to see his support continue to climb between now and Election Day, especially among Mormon voters disgusted with Trump.

"Until this poll, there wasn't a viable option to vote for. I think there is a viable option now," said Monson, a BYU political science professor. "Which means, in my view, he's got nowhere to go but up."

Republicans in Utah are in the midst of what's been described as a "full-scale revolt" against Trump after a video surfaced last week of him talking in an off-camera conversation in graphic terms about making sexual advances on women.

Many GOP leaders in the state, including Gov. Gary Herbert, said they could no longer vote for Trump. Others, such as Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans, say they're confident Trump will still win the state.

"It would have to be considered a setback because it is a setback," Evans said of the poll results that show both Trump and Clinton at 26 percent and McMullin at 22 percent. "But I think we will overcome that."

Polls change, Evans said, adding that he still doesn't believe Utah voters want to contribute to Clinton winning the White House.

Evans said Utahns' "pragmatism" will win out and they will gravitate back toward Trump before Election Day. Eight of 10 calls to Utah GOP headquarters Monday and Tuesday expressed continued support for Trump, he said.

"Over time, some of those positions will soften, not only with elected officials but with the voters," Evans said.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon was excited about the poll results.

"I think we're going to see more Democrats come out to vote because it's a close presidential race. I think that's going to help down-ticket races as well," Corroon said.

Citing the recent Deseret News editorial calling for Trump to resign his candidacy and "our Republican representatives running for the hills, I think in Utah we have finally realized this is not our man," the Democratic Party leader said.

The poll reflects the uncertainty and tenuous support Clinton and Trump have had in Utah from the beginning, said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"Over the last couple of days, Donald Trump has said the shackles have been removed from him. In the state of Utah, it appears that many voters felt like the shackles fell off of them as well," Perry said.

Utah voters have shown a willingness to look at a third-party candidate, and "if they are feeling free to vote their conscience, you start seeing some of these other people start to rise," he said.

As Trump's votes are split among the third-party candidates, Perry said that could mean a victory for Clinton.

"If she is able to keep her base in the state … and she can just watch these other candidates start stealing votes from each other, she is the one that stands to gain some ground or at the very least be the last person standing," Perry said.

Clinton's running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, called the poll results "pretty amazing" in an interview with "Your Voice, Your Vote" host Drew Steele on KSL Newsradio that will air at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Kaine said the campaign "paid very close attention to it. We started to wonder if it might be possible a month or so ago." Now, the campaign views Utah as an example of a state not "thought to be in play but now we have a legitimate chance," he said.

Although there are no plans for Clinton or Kaine to visit Utah, her campaign is looking "to see if that makes sense," Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri told The Associated Press.

Both McMullin and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson were in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. Johnson, who was at 14 percent in the poll, said he believes Utah is up for grabs and downplayed McMullin's chances.

But McMullin was the top pick of Mormons, who make up about 60 percent of Utah voters and are mostly Republican, according to the poll. He had the support of one-third of the Mormons polled, compared with 28 percent for Trump.

Perry said it's a perfect timing for McMullin to try to capitalize on what's happened the past week, though he maintains the former CIA officer is unlikely to win Utah.

McMullin said he still has a lot of work to do given that the poll shows only 52 percent of Utahns are even aware of him. He is counting on a victory in Utah and on Trump and Clinton failing to win enough electoral votes, which would send the election to the U.S. House to decide.

"We've got tons of potential whereas Donald Trump is sinking (and) Hillary Clinton has flatlined. I think she's reached her ceiling here," McMullin said. "It's all about us getting our message out to the American people, a message of equality, a message of liberty and a message of unity for this country."

While McMullin wants to debate Johnson, the Libertarian candidate said he doesn't see the point. No third-party candidate has enough support nationally to meet the 15 percent threshold required to participate in the presidential debates.

"A debate among third-party candidates would really be to ride my coattails at this point," Johnson said, noting he is on the ballot in all 50 states, while McMullin's name appears on just 11, although he's a write-in candidate in 23 other states so far.

The reaction to Trump's troubled campaign in Utah, a state that hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, is "really striking," University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said.

"This isn't going to go away. There's going to be a heck of hangover by the Republican Party," Scala said. "The example that conservative Mormon Republicans are setting is going to give a lot of people in the Republican Party pause."

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsPolitics