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Evan McMullin, a Provo native and Brigham Young University graduate who spent much of his life working in counterterrorism for the CIA, jumped into the presidential scrum Monday, running as an alternative for conservatives disenchanted with Republican nominee Donald Trump.
His dark-horse bid, however, is the "longest of long shots," according to a political observer, as McMullin tries to overcome being unknown, unfunded and unlikely to make it on the ballot in about half the states.
"It certainly is late. I hoped someone would make this effort long ago, months ago, but no one did," McMullin said in an interview. "I thought this was the last moment to have a chance to move forward and to prevail and I've got a great team. … The goal is to win."
McMullin, who served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brazil, earned a bachelor's degree from BYU in international law and diplomacy before receiving a master's in business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
McMullin worked in counterterrorism for the CIA, serving overseas in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.
In 2011, he turned to investment banking for Goldman Sachs in the San Francisco Bay area before going to work in Congress as an adviser on foreign affairs and currently as policy director for the House Republican Conference.
McMullin, who has never run for office, said his campaign would be headquartered in Salt Lake City. Right now, his nascent White House push is focused on gathering the 1,000 signatures needed by Aug. 15 to qualify for the Utah ballot as an independent presidential candidate.
"We're only a few hours into it, but we've been overwhelmed by the amount of support we've received from across America, really, and all walks of life. It's been very encouraging today," he said. "It will be a hard fight, but we assess it's absolutely possible, especially in this political climate where so many people are disappointed, to say the least, if not frustrated or heartbroken with what's happening in our country and their choices in this election."
Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, said McMullin's impact on the race nationally will likely be "negligible," although, if he makes it on the ballot, he could give Utah Republicans an alternative to Trump or Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, whose campaign is also based in Salt Lake City.
"It's a long, long shot," Perry said. "The things you need to become president of the United States are things he does not have. He does not have name ID. He does not have a platform, at least that we know of. He needs money, and we'll see where that is coming from. But also what he needs more than anything is time, and that is going to be the most difficult thing in this campaign."
The deadline to get on the ballot already has passed in 26 states and if McMullin were to reach that bar in the remaining states itself a huge challenge and win them all in November, he still would end up with 244 electoral votes, 26 shy of the tally needed to be elected president.
In Utah, Perry said, McMullin could tap into Trump discontent and give those planning to hold their nose and vote for the GOP nominee another option.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll, released Monday for the political website UtahPolicy.com, found that Trump had the backing of 37 percent of likely Utah voters, Democrat Hillary Clinton garnered 25 percent, Johnson logged 16 percent support, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein drew 1 percent. Fourteen percent of respondents said they wanted someone else, and 7 percent were undecided.
The survey, conducted July 18 through Aug. 4, has a margin of error of plus or minus of 3.34 percent.
"[McMullin] is tapping into a real sentiment in the state of Utah and other parts of the country that people are just not wanting to vote for Clinton or Trump, and they are looking for a viable candidate," Perry said. "There are a lot of attributes that he brings to the table that Utahns might find acceptable."
McMullin said his campaign will zero in on three main issues: national security and the threat posed by the Islamic State group; competing economically on the global stage and creating jobs at home; and reforming government to give voters more of a say.
"Most Americans don't feel like their voices are heard," McMullin said, "and real reforms are needed, and I have experience in all those areas."