How Evan McMullin Could Tip The 2016 Election

McMullin has thrown a curveball into the 2016 election.

ByABC News
November 4, 2016, 1:27 PM

— -- In four days, the United States will almost certainly have a new president-elect.

But anti-Trump conservative independent Evan McMullin has thrown a curveball into the 2016 election, with the possibility that his winning even just one state could throw the presidential race into chaos and extend the election season into January.

The former CIA agent's longshot White House odds rest on attracting the support of Mormon voters in Utah, who have been reluctant to throw their support behind Trump.

McMullin's strategy is to block both Trump and Clinton from hitting the 270 electoral vote threshold to win, which would send the tiebreaker election to the House of Representatives. An election hasn’t been decided by the House since 1824.

Still, this path is very unlikely as it would require a precise set of circumstances. Utah has only six electoral votes -- so a surprise win there wouldn't guarantee that Clinton or Trump don't hit 270 anyway. And a third-party candidate hasn't won electoral votes since 1968.

ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd describes this scenario “as close to not happening as improbable can get,” but he says that even if these exact conditions aren't met, McMullin could still have a serious impact on the race.

"I think if he wins [Utah] or even if he finishes close, it is a demonstration that a huge body of Republicans want their party back and Trump's hostile takeover is not acceptable, and I think it does set us up for the fight to come between the conservative wing of the GOP and the Trump battalion,” Dowd said.

The sparse polling in Utah showed McMullin running even with both Trump and Clinton in early October, creating a tight three-person race. Since then, polls have shown Trump regaining his footing as the national race becomes more competitive.

But the candidate has gotten some big-league attention in recent weeks.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who has opposed Trump's bid since the GOP primaries, told ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein this week that he was considering writing in McMullin. "That’s a possibility," he said during an interview on their podcast "Powerhouse Politics."

McMullin has even earned a mention from Trump himself, who called him a "puppet" on Fox News last week. "We're going to win Utah. But he takes votes away from me, this man who I never heard of."

A white nationalist who backs Trump made headlines earlier this week when he pushed a robocall in Utah attacking McMullin’s family and calling him an "open-borders amnesty supporter." William Johnson has since stopped the calls and apologized.

McMullin is also campaigning in Idaho and Wyoming. He is on the ballot in only 11 states but can collect write-in votes in more than two dozen more.

So where does McMullin go after Nov. 8, with electoral votes or not? It could mean the beginning of a new Republican party with or without a Trump victory.

Dowd describes McMullin as a “part of the conversation” going forward.

“It could be the beginning of a new party,” Dowd said, describing McMullin as possibly “one of the leaders.”

That is also very much part of McMullin’s campaign strategy: looking beyond Nov. 8.

In a memo written by the independent candidate's chief strategist, Joel Searby, in August, titled “How Evan McMullin can win and why it’s so important,” Searby wrote, "It’s been 48 years since anyone other than the major-party candidates won a state’s electoral votes. It will be a signal that a new generation of American leadership has come.”

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