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The curious case of Evan McMullin

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As of this writing, Hillary Clinton has a substantial lead in nearly every single election predictor. After a torrent of scandals and abhorrent behavior from her opponent, Donald Trump, Clinton seems poised to run away with the election.

However, one candidate has the potential to spoil the parade for Clinton, Trump and everyone else: Evan McMullin.

McMullin made a late entrance into the presidential ring, announcing his candidacy on Aug. 8 as an independent in order to offer a conservative alternative to Trump. The 40-year-old served in the CIA for nearly a decade, volunteered as a Refugee Resettlement Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jordan, was an adviser for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and most recently served as Chief Policy Director for the House Republican Conference.

In his opposition to Trump, McMullin has offered voters a much more standard array of Republican positions. He supports free trade, wants to make revisions to the Affordable Care Act without repealing the entire law and is in favor of the House Republican’s plan for tax reform. He has vigorously criticized Trump for his policies on immigration and refugees, as well as his racist rhetoric and fitness to be president.

Now, McMullin has the chance to upend the entire presidential election if he can manage to do just one thing on Nov. 8: win Utah.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a longtime resident, McMullin has found himself polling remarkably high in Utah. McMullin recently found himself within striking distance of Clinton and Trump, as he fell within the margin of error in recent polls. On Wednesday, Oct. 19, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that a poll from Emerson College showed McMullin had taken the lead in Utah with 31 percent, besting Trump’s 27 percent and Clinton’s 21 percent.

Utah is a historically red state and its Mormon population has been unable to find support for Trump. However, with McMullin offering a homegrown alternative, he could actually become the first independent to win a state since 1968. If he does, it could be enough.

Utah offers the winning candidate six electoral votes. With the proper sequence of events, a McMullin victory in Utah could deadlock the election, resulting in a tie. The mathematical odds of this are projected between one and three percent, but, for reference, the Chicago Cubs dramatic come-from-behind victory over the San Francisco Giants on Monday, Oct. 18, had about the same odds.

If McMullin is able to win Utah and tie up the election, the 12th Amendment would send top three presidential vote getters’ names to the House, where each state delegation would get one vote. At present, the Republican Party controls 33 of the 50 states in the House. Most projections have the GOP losing seats this election, but they will likely still maintain the majority needed to select a president.

Considering the ever-growing fissure between Trump and the Republican establishment — an unprecedented number of GOP leaders have ditched the nominee — it is not unrealistic to assume that in such a scenario, they might rally behind the more reasonable conservative alternative.

It is a far away moonshot that will require a fair number of remarkable occurrences, but if things align just right, Jan. 20, 2017 could see this country inaugurating President Evan McMullin.

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