It’s clear that Evan McMullin’s surge from unknown to contender to win Utah — and become the first nonmajor party candidate to win a state since 1968 — is real. Virtually every Utah poll that comes out now has him in a close race with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and our forecast models give him an 18 to 25 percent chance of winning the state. McMullin’s chances of sending the election to the U.S. House of Representatives – where he might have an outside shot at becoming president – have risen slightly, as well. All three of our models have the chances of an Electoral College deadlock at around 1 percent. And McMullin has been receiving some flattering press.
It’s possible, however, that McMullin’s surge has stalled.
McMullin’s improved position has drawn the attention of Trump himself, who lashed out at him as someone Trump has “never heard of,” saying he is a puppet of conservative columnist Bill Kristol, and deriding him for “going from coffee shop to coffee shop” — in Utah.
McMullin has also drawn the ire of Trump supporters, with predictably nasty responses from the worst, such as a white nationalist reportedly placing robocalls to accuse McMullin of being a closeted homosexual (because McMullin’s mother is a lesbian), or “joking” about the Mormon genocide that will take place if Utah costs Trump the election.
But the main rallying cry of the anti-McMullin campaign is still the claim that voting for McMullin could help Clinton get elected. Of course, McMullin winning Utah would be very unlikely to help Clinton, since the House delegations who would select the next president in the event that Utah caused a deadlock are very likely to be majority-Republican. (As for Utah itself, Clinton has never polled at better than 30 percent in the state, and may need a four-way split to have a shot at a plurality.) Nevertheless, this concern may be gaining some traction. Though Trump remains highly unpopular in Utah (for example, he had a net favorability rating of -43 percent in a recent poll that found him leading), he has appeared to be consolidating his support a bit anyway, with McMullin and Clinton jockeying for second place:
We have 10 fair, four-way Utah polls since mid-October, and McMullin has only led in the Oct. 17-19 Emerson College poll that gave him a 31 percent to 27 percent edge. The other nine have given McMullin between 26 percent and 30 percent compared with Trump at 30 to 33 percent, with an average gap between them of 3.8 percentage points:
Following the impressive initial surge — when it briefly looked as if McMullin could even run away with the race — McMentum seems to have at least temporarily stalled, with the latest polls being some of his worst.
McMullin has changed the game impressively, but he may need one more game changer to get over the finish line victorious.