Trump wins Utah to extend GOP’s 5-decade winning streak
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s surprising turn in the spotlight as a presidential toss-up state fizzled Tuesday as Republican Donald Trump comfortably won to extend the GOP’s five-decade winning streak in the state.
Trump won with a smaller percentage of the vote than Republican presidential candidates in recent history but did enough in the conservative, predominantly Mormon state to outdistance Democrat Hillary Clinton and independent candidate Evan McMullin.
McMullin, a Mormon and former CIA agent, finished third in the best showing by a third party candidate in Utah since Ross Perot in 1992. Trump’s victory denied Clinton and McMullin the chance to become the first non-Republican presidential candidate to win Utah in five decades.
Pundits and pollsters moved the normally solid Republican state into the tossup category after it seemed many of Utah’s mostly Mormon voters struggled to embrace Trump’s brash demeanor and recoiled over the billionaire’s comments about women, minorities and Muslims.
Trump finished third in the state’s Republican caucus in March after Utah’s favorite political son, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, called Trump a “phony and fraud” in a scathing speech delivered in Utah. The disdain for the billionaire exploded after the 2005 video emerged of him making lewd remarks about women.
But in the final week before the election, Sen. Orrin Hatch and some of Utah’s top Republicans appeared in a rally at the state capitol to urge their fellow conservatives to unite around Trump. That message appeared to resonate in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats four-to-one among 1.4 million active registered voters.
More than 1 in 10 Utah voters said they remained undecided about their vote for president until the last few days before the election, according to an exit poll survey of 1,203 Utah voters conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. Of those voters who made a decision in the final days, about 4 in 10 picked Trump.
At an event hosted by Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love, both of whom distanced themselves from Trump, cheers broke out among the crowd each time the Republican presidential candidate won a new state. As Trump gained a sizable lead against Clinton, a few members of the crowd even put on red “Make America Great Again” hats.
State party chair James Evans, a Trump supporter, said Utah voters looked past the allegations of sexual harassment against the bombastic candidate because they care about issues like appointing conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court and the economy.
“Utah is pragmatic, and they’ve moved beyond that,” Evans said.
Nathan Nelson, 52, a civil engineer from Sandy, Utah, voted for Trump to ensure protection of the Second Amendment and that a new Supreme Court justice will represent conservative values. He also liked Trump’s hard stance on securing the borders and immigration.
“His brashness doesn’t bother me at all,” said Nelson, a Utah native and father of four. “He says a lot of things that are unpolished for a politician, but I don’t think he’s quite as dishonest.”
Running as a conservative alternative to Trump, McMullin surged in the polls after entering the race as an unknown in August. McMullin was also able to capture close to a third of the Mormon vote in the state, exit polls showed.
Three in 10 of the late-deciders chose McMullin.
This includes results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 15 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 337 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 29 through Nov. 4. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
McMullin hosted an election night party in downtown Salt Lake City, where a table with gummy bears, red hots, pretzels, trail mix and other candy was heavily trafficked.
McMullin told his supporters late Tuesday night that his loss won’t stop his fight to spark a new conservative movement that is more open and compassionate than the Republican Party of Trump. A Trump win, he said, would validate the need for the movement.
“We are not going away,” McMullin vowed. “This fight does not end tonight.”
The race for the White House helped spike voter registrations in Utah, but elections officials said many voters were slow to vote early or turn in their mail-in ballots, perhaps because they were still agonizing over their choices.
When voters hit the polls Tuesday, they encountered long lines, with some voters waiting to cast their ballots hours after the polls closed. In one county, a problem with voting machines forced poll workers to switch to paper ballots.
While the presidential race was the most hotly contested competition in Utah’s 2016 election, voters also re-elected five Republican incumbents in powerful positions.
Gov. Gary Herbert defeated Democrat Mike Weinholtz, a wealthy former CEO of a medical staffing company. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee easily beat political newcomer Misty Snow, a Democrat trying to become the first openly transgender woman elected in Utah.
U.S. Rep. Mia Love won her rematch against Democrat Doug Owens in another tight contest. Results in that race were slow to come in due to long waits at voting places across Salt Lake County that left lines of voters still waiting to cast ballots hours after polls had closed. County Clerk Sherrie Swensen said she wouldn’t put out any results until people were done voting.
The other three incumbent Republican members of Congress_Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart — breezed past their Democrat challengers.
Associated Press writers Brady McCombs and Michelle Price in Salt Lake City and Hallie Golden in South Jordan, Utah, contributed to this report.