Minnesota supporters of independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin have been hustling in recent days to elevate his profile here as he vaults to the front ranks of third-party alternatives.
As Republican Donald Trump’s increasingly scandal-plagued candidacy plummets in the polls, supporters see McMullin as an option for conservatives who are appalled by Trump but unwilling to vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. It’s a hope shared by two other minor-party candidates on the Minnesota ballot in November, Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
Harry Niska, a prominent GOP activist and an attorney from Anoka, recently signed up to volunteer for McMullin. Niska believes Trump is intent on abusing the power of the presidency.
“Frankly, throughout his life it seems he’s abused every lever of power that’s been available to him,” Niska said. “I am a Republican, and it is frustrating and frankly sad to me that I can’t support the Republican nominee for president.”
McMullin is a former CIA agent and Goldman Sachs executive who most recently was the chief policy director for U.S. House Republicans. He got into the presidential race late, in early August, and he won’t appear on ballots in all 50 states. He is on the ballot in Minnesota and 10 other states, and is a registered write-in candidate in 34 more states.
Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico who was also the Libertarian Party candidate for president in 2012, will appear on the ballot in all 50 states. Stein, a physician who was also on the 2012 presidential ballot, made it onto 45 state ballots this time.
Stein already has campaigned in Minnesota and has plans to be back for a Twin Cities visit on Oct. 26. Brandon Long, chairman of the Minnesota Green Party, said the party is aiming its appeals at supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s runner-up in the Democratic presidential contest.
“Unless we demand more and better from our candidates, we’re not going to get it,” Long said. “Progressive third parties have pushed important things into larger progressive movements — the 40-hour workweek and Social Security, for starters.”
Johnson has not campaigned in Minnesota this cycle. Chris Dock, chairman of Minnesota’s Libertarian Party, still hoped to land a visit from him or his running mate, ex-Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.
“We’ve seen an uptick this cycle in interest in third-party politics,” Dock said. “There’s obviously a lot of distrust of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.”
In a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll from September, Johnson tallied 6 percent support while Stein got 2 percent. McMullin’s name was not included in the poll. The same poll had Clinton at 44 percent to Trump’s 38 percent.
If any of the three get over 5 percent of the vote on Nov. 8, their respective party will earn major-party status for the 2018 and 2020 elections — something that currently only the DFL and GOP enjoy. That brings easier ballot access, higher state matching funds for their campaigns and likely more media coverage.
McMullin captured attention last week with surprisingly strong poll performance in Utah, where he was born. A Monmouth University poll of Utah voters on Thursday found him at 20 percent support compared to 34 percent for Trump and 28 percent for Clinton.
In Minnesota, McMullin is on the ballot under the heading of the Independence Party, once the political home of former Gov. Jesse Ventura.
“Evan McMullin is a center-right candidate, entirely committed to fiscal restraint and fiscal responsibility, and debt reduction,” said Phil Fuehrer, chairman of the Independence Party. “He’s probably a little more socially conservative than a lot of our members but we are not a litmus test party.”
McMullin visited Minnesota during the State Fair, and supporters are hoping to get him back to Minnesota before Election Day. They have started chasing votes on his behalf by distributing fliers at political events like last week’s speech by Sanders in support of Clinton, and with door-knocking and phone contacts.
Similar efforts have been underway on the part of Johnson and Stein supporters.
Tom Horner, a one-time Republican strategist who was the Independence Party’s candidate for governor in 2010, said for him the choice is down to McMullin or Clinton. “The rationale for Clinton is to make sure lightning doesn’t strike and somehow Trump wins Minnesota,” Horner said. “Can McMullin win? No. But he’s a credible candidate, and in some ways there is a value in sending a message that we need candidates better than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.”