Irish American Evan McMullin is an unlikely center-stage character in the dying days of this election season as he threatens to win the red state of Utah running as an independent conservative. On his website McMullin proudly speaks of his Irish ancestry and the need to be open towards immigration.
The 40-year-old former CIA agent and political operative for the Republican Party has tapped into a deep vein of distrust among Utahns over Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric, braggadocio and vulgar side, not to mention his sexual innuendos.
Such talk does not go down well in a state known for its abhorrence of loud mouths, its low key profile and its belief in offering a helping hand to immigrants which has its roots in the two years Mormons spend abroad spreading their faith and doing good work.
McMullin is also starting to poll well in nearby Idaho, where he could drag down Donald Trump’s favorables.
In Utah the latest polls show Trump at 32 percent and McMullin at 30 percent making it a statistical tie. Hillary Clinton is behind on 24%, and her voters may switch to McMullin to stop Trump in the electoral college. With every vote critical to reach that 270 needed to become president, subtracting the six votes Utah holds from Trump makes it a lot more difficult for him.
Were Trump to lose Utah it would be a shock of incredible proportions. After all, there was no more Republican state in the union in the last election giving Mitt Romney a 50 point win over Barack Obama.
This time it is different, however.
How worried is Trump? Well last week his Vice Presidential pick Mike Pence was canvassing in Utah, an incredible scenario with less than two weeks to go.
Trump is clearly worried.
"Now if for some reason we lose Utah, that could have a very devastating impact on the overall," Trump told Fox News. "If they go enough for this character that's running all over the state, and we lose the state of Utah, that's devastating.”
Running mate Mike Pence has also jumped on the anti-McMullin bandwagon, telling a radio audience "nobody ever heard of him."
McMullin struck back quickly at Trump. "Yes you’ve never heard of me because while you were harassing women at beauty pageants, I was fighting terrorists abroad," said the former CIA operations officer. Ouch!
After graduating from Brigham Young University, McMullin began working in the Central Intelligence Agency as an operations officer. He remained at the CIA for ten years, serving in operations related to counterterrorism, and political stability in hostile environments. According to his website, McMullin served in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia while in the CIA.
McMullin joined Goldman Sachs as an investment banker in 2010. He left the firm in 2013 to advise the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2015, he became the chief policy director for the House Republican Conference.
On August 8, 2016, McMullin announced that he was launching an independent campaign for president. According to NPR, McMullin's campaign was aided by the political group “Better for America” and political strategist Rick Wilson.
In an interview with The New York Times, McMullin said that his motivation for entering the race was his opposition to the way Republican candidate Donald Trump spoke of veterans and their families. McMullin told the paper, "Really what’s impacted me is the way Trump’s treated our veterans, our heroes. ... The things he said about John McCain, the things he said about the Khan family, and Mrs. Khan."
He stated: Millions of Americans are not being represented by either of these candidates. ... With the stakes so high for our nation and at this late stage in the process, I can no longer stand on the sidelines. Our country needs leaders who are in it for the right reasons and who actually understand what makes this country the greatest on earth.
On immigration McMullin has a far more nuanced position that Trump. “The story of America is the story of immigration. My family left Ireland in the 1600s to seek a better life in the New World. Part of my mother’s family fled Poland because of the Nazi menace.
“The country we love was built by immigrants. Yet while we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. We must preserve our sovereignty, our security, and the rule of law.
"The path to reform begins with securing our borders. Once they are secured, there should be a process of earned legalization for the illegal immigrants who are already here. There is simply no efficient way to deport 11 million individuals; doing so would break apart families and likely cost $100 billion. Furthermore, legalization is not amnesty.”
It will be fascinating to watch Utah on Nov 8. What an incredible turn-up it would be if McMullin were to win. The bookmakers have it as an even money proposition at present. It could be that close.