SALT LAKE CITY — Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin has surged ahead of the two major party candidates in Utah, a new poll shows.
Also Wednesday, a dozen Utah elected officials, including several Republican state lawmakers, endorsed the BYU graduate and former CIA officer.
McMullin leads Republican Donald Trump 31 percent to 27 percent, with Democrat Hillary Clinton pulling 24 percent, according to an Emerson College survey of 700 likely Utah voters. The poll has a 3.6 percent margin of error.
"People in this region understand that these two choices are unacceptable for our country and that we need something better, so our message is resonating here especially well," McMullin said, adding that he hopes it spills over into neighboring states.
More than half of Utah Republicans who overwhelmingly supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the presidential preference caucus migrated to McMullin, the Boston-based college's poll shows. Only 29 percent of the Cruz backers are now voting for Trump.
McMullin draws his strongest support from 18- to 34-year-olds. He is winning 36 percent of that age group, while Trump and Clinton each got 22 percent. Trump leads McMullin 35 percent to 24 percent among Utahns 55 and over, according to the poll.
Libertarian Gary Johnson is a distant fourth in the survey at 5 percent, and 12 percent are undecided.
In other recent polls, McMullin is running neck and neck with Clinton and Trump in Utah.
McMullin said if the election were close across the country, he could block Clinton or Trump if he wins a state or two, but that it isn't close right now.
"Donald Trump is being dominated by Hillary Clinton," he said, citing polls in which Trump is dropping in key states. "Unless something dramatically changes, Hillary Clinton is going to win by a large margin."
Mayors from Orem, Payson and South Jordan were among those standing with McMullin at a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol. McMullin spoke to the Senate GOP caucus before the event.
Sens. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City; and Reps. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, and Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, endorsed McMullin.
"We're getting some traction with the leaders of Utah," McMullin said.
Acknowledging McMullin is a long shot, Fillmore said the candidate stands for conservative principles and that character counts in this election.
"We cannot let difficulty stand in the way of doing the right thing," Fillmore said.
Contributing: Josh Furlong
Email: [email protected]