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The Republican Party, particularly as led by Donald Trump, has a problem with racism and sexism, independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin said in a speech Wednesday, vowing he wouldn't return to the GOP unless it becomes more welcoming to all people.

At the same time McMullin was speaking to college students at the University of Utah, William Johnson, a self-described white nationalist, sent a press release apologizing for sending robocalls to Utahns in which he labeled McMullin "a closet homosexual" in an attempt to drive voters toward Trump. Trump and McMullin are statistically tied in recent polls, while Democrat Hillary Clinton is not far behind.

"I am sorry for the mean-spirited message and I humbly retract its contents," said Johnson, who has funded his own pro-Trump political action committee in California. "I sent the robocalls out because Utah is a strong family-values state and America and the West is gripped by an extreme and fatal malady: failure to marry and have children. The white birthrate is so astonishingly low that Western Civilization will soon cease to exist. I felt Evan McMullin typified that perfidious mentality."

Johnson went on to say: "Donald Trump's campaign has repudiated my robocall and many people from Utah and beyond have excoriated me for it as well. Just as Donald Trump has issued a heartfelt apology for his past locker-room talk, I too issue a heartfelt apology for this robocall. I should not have sent it out. I am truly sorry."

The robocall, costing $2,000, went out to tens of thousands of Utahns with landlines on Monday and Tuesday. It was supposed to go to others on Wednesday, when Johnson pulled it. In the call, he slammed McMullin for being single and for having a mother in a gay marriage, and called him a "closet homosexual."

McMullin, 40, says he is straight and only single because he spent his 20s and early 30s in the CIA where it was difficult to date.

Approached after his speech at the U., McMullin said Johnson's apology was "interesting," though he withheld further comment until he had a chance to review Johnson's full statement.

McMullin said he's received death threats from white supremacists in recent days, which he has forwarded to the Secret Service. He's also boosted his own security in the last week of the race.

"It will not change our message and we will not be intimidated," he told reporters.

McMullin is a Mormon who was born in Provo. He spent 11 years working as a CIA operative and most recently was the policy director for the House Republican Conference. He grew increasingly concerned about Trump's candidacy and jumped in the race in early August. He's only on the ballot in 11 states and his only realistic chance of winning is in Utah, where he plans to concentrate between now and Election Day.

A main focus of his campaign has been criticizing Trump for disparaging remarks targeting women, people of color, religious people and people with disabilities.

A student asked him Wednesday how he'd try to fight political correctness and McMullin said: "I do believe there is still a problem with racism or bigotry in this country. And there is still a problem with misogyny as well. And, especially as white men, we need to acknowledge that.

"When one of our major parties is offering up a leader who thinks that way or speaks that way," he said, "that tells us something about who we are."

McMullin's speech came the day after a group of prominent Utahns, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart and state House Speaker Greg Hughes, held a rally at the Utah Capitol urging voters to stand behind Trump even if they disagree with some of his behavior.

And last week Trump's vice presidential nominee, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, visited the state asking Republicans to "come home" and reject McMullin.

The independent said his plan to take the lead in Utah and ultimately win its six electoral votes is to convince Trump supporters to give him a shot, by focusing on his platform calling for empowered states and a smaller federal government.

"Come home to your principles. Come home to true conservatives. Come home to the ideals that made this country so special, so powerful and prosperous," he said.

When asked about the parallels between what he said today and what Pence said last week, McMullin said: "They took our party. Why can't we take their phrase?"

Twitter: @mattcanham