SALT LAKE CITY — Donald Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is set to stop in Utah on Thursday to shore up support for the GOP presidential ticket, the same day independent candidate Evan McMullin is stumping in the state.
Pence is participating in GOP Sen. Mike Lee's annual Utah Solutions Summit, as well as headlining a $10,000-a-person fundraiser hosted by a longtime supporter of Mitt Romney, the Republican Party's 2012 nominee and one of Trump's harshest critics.
Scott Keller, who is hosting Pence at his Bountiful home for the lunchtime fundraiser, said he's involved because he wants to see the Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, defeated.
"I'll always be a Gov. Mitt Romney supporter. I'm just anti-Hillary. I see no other way to see that she does not end up in the (White House)," Keller told the Deseret News.
McMullin, a Utah native who is meeting privately with several state leaders Thursday morning and speaking at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics at 2 p.m., is hoping to offer voters that alternative.
An internal campaign memo provided to the Deseret News details a strategy that requires McMullin to win Utah and both Trump and Clinton to fail to get the required 270 electoral votes in November, throwing the election to the U.S. House.
"It's a stretch goal, but it is possible," said McMullin's communications director for Utah, Kelsey Koenen Witt. "A majority of voters are disenchanted, and he wanted to step up and be another option."
Retired four-star Gen. Michael Hayden, who has served as a director of both the CIA and the National Security Agency, said Utahns should consider voting for McMullin, a former CIA officer and a top House GOP aide.
"Of course they should take a look at him," Hayden said in an interview with the Deseret News after speaking at a national security conference in Salt Lake City at the invitation of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Hayden said he has decided only that he isn't voting for either Trump or Clinton, and he's spoken with McMullin, who entered the race only weeks ago.
"His calmness, his confidence, his compassion is a breath of fresh air," Hayden said. "Even Evan, I think, knows he's the darkest of dark horses, but votes matter in many ways."
Hayden was one of 50 national security officials from GOP administrations who signed a letter in early August condemning Trump as "erratic" and lacking "the character, values and experience to be president.”
On Wednesday, Hayden said he hopes to see enough votes for third-party presidential candidates to make it clear to the eventual winner that he or she does not have "some all-powerful mandate" but is in fact "selected as the lesser of two evils."
Hatch, who has backed Trump and urged Utah Republicans to join him, said he shares Hayden's concerns about how national security and foreign policy would be handled by the billionaire businessman.
"But I am also concerned about what I think is the most important issue in this campaign, and that is who's going to appoint the judges" to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal posts, Utah's senior senator said.
With a vacancy on the high court and as many as four more anticipated, Hatch said there's the potential that those and other federal judicial appointments by the next president could change the legal system "like never before."
Hatch said while he doesn't know Trump as well as Clinton, "we have a chance with Donald Trump of at least getting a better federal judiciary and, I think, in time — because he wants to be successful — a better president."
Hatch was among a list of seven of the state's top elected Republicans who issued a statement this week urging support for Trump. Among the names missing from the list were Lee and Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who have not endorsed in the race.
Pence told Sutherland Institute leader Boyd Matheson on KNRS radio Wednesday that Utah voters will be drawn to the GOP presidential ticket's commitment to upholding "high standards, honesty and integrity" in the White House.
"Those are all values that are synonymous with a vast majority of people of this great state, and I believe that they're values that are going to continue to resonate as we build support in Utah and all across America," Pence said.
He has his work cut out for him in Utah, a state where Trump came in a distant third in a March GOP presidential preference caucus to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Lee, who told the Deseret News and KSL editorial board Monday that he is still not ready to endorse his party's presidential pick, helped lead an attempt to force a protest vote against Trump at the Republican National Convention in July.
And the Democratic National Committee circulated an anti-Trump mailer over the weekend to Utah voters, warning them the GOP candidate is "unfit and unprepared," and the thought of him as president "is so alarming."
One of Trump's top campaign surrogates, his son, Donald Trump Jr., is scheduled to spend several days in Utah soon and hold another fundraiser. Utah State GOP Chairman James Evans said he also hopes Trump Jr. will do some public events.
Matheson said the Trump campaign is making a smart move by sending Pence here to speak at a policy-oriented conference for what will be the ticket's first appearance in Utah since Trump held a rally in Salt Lake City before the March vote.
"What they're doing here is more laying the groundwork. I think they know they've got work to do, but I think this is a good first foray into the state for them," Matheson said.
Kirk Jowers, former head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Pence and Trump Jr. can connect with the state's voters in a way Trump himself cannot.
"But at the end of the day, you vote for president," said Jowers, who plans to write-in Romney for president on his November ballot. "You have to come to grips with whether you are comfortable with Trump as president."
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said his party is benefiting from the GOP angst over the top of the ticket.
"A vote for Mike Pence is a vote for Donald Trump, so sending your softer side is not going to fool Utahns," Corroon said, and having McMullin's name on the ballot may discourage straight ticket voting.
"Anything that has (voters) not pulling a straight Republican lever is great for Democrats," the party leader said.