SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Donald Trump leads in three new polls of Utah voters released Thursday, with independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin in third place behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in two of them.
"It's what I've been saying all along," Utah GOP Chairman James Evans said. "They've come home to being pragmatic because they believe the choice is between Donald Trump and Hillary and they don't want to deliver Utah to Hillary."
The polls come as new TV commercials supporting Trump begin airing in Utah, including nearly $90,000 in airtime on KSL-TV through Election Day next Tuesday, the first local ad buys in support of a major party candidate in the general election.
Paid for by a month-old super PAC based in Virginia, the TV commercials do not mention Trump by name but slam Clinton, citing the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Two of the new polls suggest the race in Utah may now be between Trump and Clinton. McMullin, a Mormon with Utah ties running as a conservative alternative to Trump, had been leading or statistically tied with him in some recent polling.
"I think the Clinton campaign efforts in helping get out the vote has made a difference," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said. "When Democrats see that it's a horse race, they want to make a difference and feel like they can."
McMullin said he still sees Trump as his real competition in Utah.
"Hillary Clinton is not going to win this state. It's going to be Donald Trump or it's going to be me. So we have to think about what we want this state to stand for," he said. "Is it going to be a Trump state or a state that stands on principle?"
• A Monmouth University poll found Trump had the support of 37 percent of Utahns who had either already voted or are likely to vote in the presidential election, while Clinton had 31 percent and McMullin, 24 percent.
Four percent backed Libertarian Gary Johnson and 1 percent Green Party candidate Jill Stein, according to the poll, conducted by telephone Oct. 30-Nov. 2 of 402 likely Utah voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
• A Heat Street/Rasmussen Reports poll gave Trump an even bigger lead, with the backing of 42 percent of likely Utah voters compared to 31 percent for Clinton and 21 percent for McMullin.
Heat Street/Rasmussen polled 750 likely Utah voters Oct. 29-31, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. Their polls over the previous two weeks had McMullin in second place, while an October Monmouth poll put him in third.
• An Emerson College poll of Utah voters put Trump at 40 percent, followed by McMullin at 28 percent and Clinton at 20 percent. The poll, conducted Oct. 31-Nov. 1 of 1,000 likely Utah voters, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
Republicans in the latest Monmouth poll chose Trump over McMullin, 56 percent to 34 percent, with 4 percent behind Clinton. Trump also leads among independent voters in the polls, 34 percent to 32 percent for Clinton and 24 percent for McMullin.
"It's been nearly 50 years since a third-party candidate won any state's electoral votes. That streak should remain intact," Patrick Murray, director of the nonpartisan Monmouth University Polling Institute in New Jersey, said in a statement.
Murray said McMullin "has cut into Trump's partisan support," but he has not been able to break out of third place in Utah. McMullin has focused his efforts on winning the state since getting into the race in August.
His only path to the White House requires taking at least one state plus preventing both Trump and Clinton from reaching the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House, sending the election to the U.S. House to decide.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the new polls confirm what he believed all along, that "most Republican voters would hold their nose and vote for Trump."
Neither Trump nor Clinton have been popular with Utah voters with both finishing far behind the other contenders in the state's presidential preference caucuses in March. Utah has voted Republican in every presidential race since 1968.
Trump talked on the campaign trail about his "tremendous problem" in Utah even before a 2005 video surfaced of him talking in graphic terms about making sexual advances toward women.
That prompted Gov. Gary Herbert and several other GOP leaders to drop their support for Trump while some who had never endorsed their party's nominee spoke out against him, including Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Mia Love.
Last week, Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, made a plea to Republicans to "come home" at an appearance in Salt Lake City. Tuesday, the Utah GOP rallied in the Capitol rotunda with the same message.
Don Peay with Utahns for Trump said voters are realizing the state's six electoral votes could be crucial to a Republican victory at the top of the ticket and don't want to play "Russian roulette politics" with their presidential pick.
"It's an election that matters and Utah can play a key role," Peay said before leaving to appear at rallies for Trump with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in Nevada and Arizona.
Longtime Clinton supporter Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County councilwoman, said the Democratic candidate's efforts in the state, which included an op-ed for the Deseret News targeted at Mormons, are reaching voters.
"People are recognizing that she'll be good for Utah," Wilson said. "I think the investment of resources sends a signal that Utah matters to a future Clinton administration."
The Monmouth poll found that both Trump and Clinton are viewed unfavorably by about two-thirds of Utah voters. Nearly half, however, told the university's pollsters they didn't know enough about McMullin to rate his favorability.
More than one-third of likely Utah voters in the Monmouth poll said they have already cast their ballots and among those voters, Clinton holds a 43 percent to 33 percent lead over Trump and McMullin is at 16 percent.
Among Utahns who said they had not yet voted, 39 percent told pollsters they intend to vote for Trump, 29 percent for McMullin, and 24 percent for Clinton.
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