Four years ago, conservative unknown Evan McMullin emerged from obscurity three months before the election and became an alternative for many Latter-day Saint Republicans who could not bring themselves to vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.
There were many.
A supermajority of U.S. church members have voted Republican for decades now, but a crack in that monolith emerged in 2016 as support for the GOP nominee among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nosedived to 61% nationally from the typical 80%.
It was worse in Utah, where Trump earned 45.5% of the vote four years after Mitt Romney won 72.6%. McMullin’s 21.5% of the Utah vote explained most of the difference in that state. Nationwide, he earned 732,000 votes.
McMullin is not running this time, leaving behind tens of thousands of Latter-day Saint voters that one Biden supporter has called “politically homeless.” Which way this group in the middle decides to vote next week could become vital for either Trump or Biden.
As the two campaigns each try to blaze a path to victory in the Electoral College to return their candidate to the White House, some of the possible scenarios consist of Latter-day Saint voters casting the decisive votes in battleground states like Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina and Florida.
“There are a lot of Latter-day Saints in Arizona and Nevada” — well over half a million — “and both states could go either way,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who campaigned for Trump in Arizona last week. “I think there are some members of the church who are genuinely on the fence.”
Will Trump scoop up a significant number of them this time around? So far this year, polls show the president’s approval rating among Latter-day Saint voters at about 55% to