Done deal: Evan McMullin qualifies for the ballot in Utah

If my theory about his candidacy is correct then this was the only state ballot that really mattered to him and his team. Mission accomplished.

McMullin, running as an alternative to Donald Trump, filed the required 1,000 signatures on Monday to be on the ballot, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s office confirmed.

“Petition filed. He will be on the ballot,” Mark Thomas, Cox’s director of Elections told POLITICO moments after members of McMullin’s campaign walked into his office to file.

The deadline to file the signatures was Monday by 5 p.m. Mountain Time, 7 p.m. Eastern.

He’s getting some help from a local party in Minnesota so he might end up on the ballot there too, but Minnesota will be Clinton country this fall. Utah is different: In four polls of the state dating back to early June, Trump leads in three and is tied(!) in one but has yet to crack 37 percent in a three-way race against Clinton and Gary Johnson in any single survey. Johnson, in fact, is in double digits in all four. What happens when you toss a socially conservative Utah native and practicing Mormon like McMullin into the mix? Maybe he’ll be stuck fighting with Johnson over his share of the vote, but the theory of McMullin’s run, I think, is that there’s a significant minority of Utah Republicans who are very reluctantly sticking with Trump for now because they can’t in good conscience bring themselves to back the pro-choicer Johnson. If McMullin takes, say, 10 percent from Trump on top of the 15 percent that Johnson’s already taking, suddenly this state is very much in play. If Clinton wins it, that means she no longer needs New Hampshire to get her over 270 votes. She could do it with Pennsylvania and Utah in addition to the usual reliable blue states plus the pretty darned reliable bluish-purple ones like Colorado and Virginia.

And yes, there’s reason to think Team Clinton is watching all of this closely.

Hillary Clinton will pitch her candidacy to Mormon voters in Utah with an op-ed Wednesday in the church-owned Deseret News.

“I’ve been fighting to defend religious freedom for years,” Clinton writes in an excerpt of the op-ed provided to BuzzFeed News. “As secretary of state, I made it a cornerstone of our foreign policy to protect the rights of religious minorities around the world — from Coptic Christians in Egypt, to Buddhists in Tibet.”

That’s from a BuzzFeed piece published a week ago. Hillary’s op-ed did indeed appear in the Deseret News last Wednesday. Note the theme of religious liberty. A recurring criticism of Trump in stories about his trouble in Utah is the distaste among Mormons for his proposed ban last year on Muslims entering the United States. Mike Lee has cited that specifically as one major reason why he hasn’t endorsed yet: Given their experience with persecution, Mormons don’t take kindly to religious tests being imposed on other minorities. Clinton wisely tried to play on that in her op-ed, knowing that there aren’t many points of common ground on wider policy between her and the Utah electorate. McMullin has also made it a theme in his media appearances over the past week. You would think, given his role as the independent conservative in the race, that his main line of attack on Trump would be that Trump’s a phony conservative. Not so. Watch his interview with MSNBC below and you’ll hear him call Trump a bigot. “We’re a country where people of all religions are welcome,” said McMullin. “People of all faiths, people of all ethnicities, all nationalities. We’re a diverse, pluralistic country and we cherish this.” In a separate interview with ABC a few days earlier, he called Trump “inhuman” because he appears to care about no one but himself. That is to say, he’s attacking Trump’s character more so than his ideology. That’s aimed squarely at Utah voters, not only in their jitters about persecution but in their admiration for decorum. Trump’s even more of a mismatch with them temperamentally than he is ideologically and McMullin’s shrewdly trying to capitalize.

Trump published his own op-ed in the Deseret News today, by the way, promising to protect both religious freedom and the unborn. Exit quotation from one of his recent rallies: “[We’re] having a tremendous problem in Utah. Utah’s a different place…”