The independent Senate campaign of Brigham Young University alum Jared Young has attracted the help of the architect behind Evan McMullin’s 2016 presidential run that won 21% of the vote in Utah and 730,000 votes nationwide.

McMullin’s presidential campaign manager Joel Searby joined Young’s campaign in April as a senior strategist after he was impressed by the personal resources Young had invested into unseating Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.

“Jared has such a compelling, strong character and set of values,” Searby told the Deseret News. “He showed his commitment by committing his own resources, which is really important for a candidate.”

Young’s long-shot bid for the Senate has in large part been fueled by a $245,000 loan he made to his campaign. But his “we can be better” message has also attracted more fundraising contributions than any other third-party bid for U.S. Senate in the country, at more than $110,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Jared Young running against populism on the left and right

Another factor that attracted Searby to Young’s campaign was the contrast the candidate presented to the Republican and Democratic offerings, he said.

“You have two candidates, from the Republicans and the Democrats, who really embody this extreme politics that people are fed up with,” Searby said. “And Jared runs up the middle of that, not just from a politics perspective, but from a character perspective, really stands out as somebody who wants to do this differently.”

The BYU grad seeking independence from the two-party system in Missouri

The U.S. Senate race in Missouri is unique for the rhetoric of both major party candidates, Searby said, pointing to Hawley’s support for Jan. 6 protesters and the likely Democratic nominee Lucas Kunce’s reputation as a “bomb thrower” and “the Trump of the left.”

Hawley and Kunce have each embraced the populist label. Hawley has argued for lawmakers to “re-Christianize” the country’s legal and economic systems. And Kunce has vowed to “break the system” by fighting corporate power.

But most Missourians don’t want a political revolution, Young said, they want commonsense solutions to kitchen table problems.

“I really think we’ve reached the point where we should be focusing less on specific policy issues and more on approaches that our leaders are taking because I think that’s really what’s broken,” Young told the Deseret News. “If we adopt this better approach, where we are actually talking to each other and engaging with each other in a productive way, it will naturally lead to better, smarter policy outcomes that are more durable.”

Missouri’s new ‘Better Party’

In January, Young, who graduated from Harvard Law School before running, and then selling, an human resources outsourcing company in Joplin, Missouri, realized he would need the help of expensive signature-gathering firms to collect 10,000 signatures to appear on the Nov. 5 general election ballot.

Young, the father of six children under 12, decided he wanted his family’s financial sacrifice to extend beyond his own campaign and filed paperwork so the signatures he gathered would go toward establishing a new political party in the state to provide ballot access for independent candidates in future Missouri elections.

The Better Party was officially recognized by the Missouri secretary of state in early May, a few weeks after Young submitted his signatures. Similar to Andrew Yang’s Forward Party, Young’s party does not have a detailed policy platform. Instead, it serves as a vehicle for nonpartisan candidates to gain access to the ballot and make reforms — free of partisan pressures.

Andrew Yang’s Forward Party sees the Mountain West as its natural home

Young said the party will have one filter when vetting prospective candidates — they must commit to three codes of conduct that have until now also formed the core of Young’s senate campaign. First, they must treat political opponents with respect; second, consider good ideas no matter where they come from; and, third, reject a strategy of political ends justifying immoral means.

“We really believe that that’s at the heart of the issue in our national politics right now. People have decided that their cause is so righteous, and the other people are so dangerous, that they can justify doing anything,” Young said. “If you have to be dishonest or underhanded to achieve your goals, then your goals aren’t worth achieving anymore.”

In addition to trying to win his race against the massively-favored Hawley — who has $5 million in the bank, has spent $15 million more and has the backing of the state’s dominant party — Young’s goal is “to normalize options outside of the two parties,” he said.

Jared Young, an independent Missouri Senate candidate, is photographed during an interview at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Young often quotes polling that suggests 43% of Missouri voters consider themselves independents, 33% Republicans and 24% Democrats. He said this data, as well as polling he conducted before entering the race that shows 70% of Missourians are interested in a third-party alternative to Hawley and Kunce, “has been validated” as he crisscrosses the state.

“People are exhausted and discouraged by what the two parties are producing right now,” Young said. “And so when I step in front of them and say, ‘Here’s what you can do about it,’ then they get pretty excited.”

But Missouri state Sen. Holly Rehder, who is currently running for lieutenant governor, said residents of the state aren’t out to buy what Young has to offer. In her statewide campaign, Rehder said she has yet to hear mention of Young. Rather, she said Missourians are “hungry for” the “populist message” of Hawley and Trump.

“We are so focused on our fighters, on the people who will go in and flip over tables, somebody who’s not aiming to be in the middle,” Rehder told the Deseret News. “We want somebody who’s going to go take our country back.”

What’s next for Jared Young’s campaign in Missouri?

Beginning as a two-man operation of Young and his father, Young’s campaign now counts on Searby, a digital team, legal counsel and treasurer, Young said. With their limited resources and start-up mentality, Young’s team is focused on targeted online advertising and town hall-style meetings.

Young hopes to build momentum and name recognition as polls begin to include Better Party candidates, hopefully leading to his appearance on the debate stage in coming months.

“We have a lot more resources than your traditional independent candidate and and it makes us just instantly more viable,” Young said. But he acknowledges they are trying to pull something off that has “never been accomplished before.”

To win, Young figures he needs to convince 1.3 million people to vote for him out of the roughly 2 million Missourians he says are persuadable.

The third-party craze reaches Utah

After the November election, Young says he will turn his attention to expanding party membership, resources and candidate recruitment. At a bare minimum, he hopes the impact of his candidacy will be to wake the two parties up to the fact that they need to do more to appeal to the political middle, Young said. He also hopes it will increase the credibility of third-party bids across the country and potentially lead to the Better Party spreading to other states.

For Searby, Young’s endeavor is one more step toward creating a new politics in America. Each time a “viable” candidate is seen mounting an independent run against the two major parties, it decreases a psychological barrier people have of voting for a third party, Searby said.

Searby also advised McMullin in his 2022 run against Sen. Mike Lee in Utah, in which McMullin lost by 10% — still one of the “most successful statewide independent races in the last two decades,” Searby said.

“I believe that we’re going to continue to see serious independent candidates run and there will be a breakthrough at some point because the data is just so clear that that’s what the voters want,” Searby said. “We just need a couple of candidates to break that dam.”

Correction: A previous version of this story suggested that Jared Young founded a human resources outsourcing company in Missouri. He was the company’s CEO but he did not found it.