GOP leaders urge voters to ‘come home,’ as McMullin and Clinton turn Utah into a battleground

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah has become a battleground as Republicans fight to keep control of the once reliably red state, fearful of losing it to an upstart independent candidate -- or worse to them -- Hillary Clinton.

At a rally inside the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday, more than 150 supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump urged their neighbors to "come home" to the GOP.

"It is time for us to rally around and to support the Republican nominee," Congressman Chris Stewart told the crowd. "The future of our country hangs in the balance."

Trump has turned Utah into a "toss up," polling lower than Republicans have historically performed in this state. Many Republican voters have abandoned Trump in favor of independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin. At Tuesday's rally, McMullin was portrayed by speakers as an election spoiler.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, speaks at a rally in support of Donald Trump on Tuesday, Nov. 1. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13)

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, speaks at a rally in support of Donald Trump on Tuesday, Nov. 1. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13)

"Evan McMullin, you are not Utah's savior! In fact, you are stealing votes from the moral choice and giving them to the crooked choice!" conservative activist Cherilyn Eager said to cheers for the crowd.

Addressing Trump's offensive remarks caught on tape and accusations of sexual misconduct, Eager remarked that Utahns were "not electing the pope."

"Jesus is not on the ballot," she said.

Throughout the lunchtime rally, the fear of McMullin winning Utah was an underlying feeling. Some in the crowd shouted "Never McMullin!" Utah GOP Chairman James Evans believed that conservative voters would indeed turn out for Trump.

"I think it's clear to Utahns that we will perhaps decide the next president and we want to make certain that it goes for Trump," he told FOX 13.

But some Utah Republican flagbearers have said they still won't vote Trump, including Governor Gary Herbert, Sen. Mike Lee and Congresswoman Mia Love.

"There's still time for his mind to change," Evans said of the governor.

Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, speaks at a rally in support of Donald Trump on Tuesday, Nov. 1. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, speaks at a rally in support of Donald Trump on Tuesday, Nov. 1. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Other Republicans have changed their minds, including congressmen Chaffetz, Stewart and Sen. Orrin Hatch, who spoke at the rally and urged voters to consider who would appoint justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal judicial benches. Hatch said he believed Trump has tempered himself lately in preparation to win the White House.

"Some Utahns have held against him the problems of the past," Hatch told reporters. "Well, all I can say is I've seen an evolution and it's an evolution for the better."

Another who has changed his mind is Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, who stood at the capitol three weeks ago next to McMullin. On Tuesday, he was appearing in support of Trump.

"I just stopped and thought, 'I'm on the wrong ship,'" Anderegg told the crowd to cheers.

Meanwhile, Democrats are rallying to win Utah -- or at least keep it from Trump. Hillary Clinton's campaign has been flying in a number of surrogates in recent weeks, rallying liberals and independents to her campaign.

Actor Sean Astin speaks at a rally in support of Hillary Clinton at the Salt Lake County Government Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 1. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Actor Sean Astin speaks at a rally in support of Hillary Clinton at the Salt Lake County Government Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 1. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

"Utah is a battleground state!" cheered "Lord of the Rings" actor Sean Astin, a Clinton supporter, at a Tuesday rally near an early voting location.

Astin was the latest to campaign in the Beehive state to support Clinton. Speaking to reporters, he said he saw McMullin on the news in Salt Lake City and was intrigued. Like Republicans, he also believed the race comes down to two candidates.

"A solid third party would be fantastic in this country. But next tuesday, either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is getting elected president," he said.

Democrats also hoped for gains downticket, keeping Utah a battleground in elections to come.

"We've lost some races by close margins and we don't have to," Kim Bowman, the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor said to cheers at the rally. "If you want the world to look different, do something about it."