By Ginger Gibson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former CIA officer and congressional staffer on Monday launched a long-shot bid for president, a Republican billing himself as a conservative alternative to Donald Trump who disenchanted voters can rally around.
There is virtually no chance that the newly announced candidate, Evan McMullin, could win and only a slight chance he will even be able to get his name on the ballots of key states. McMullin has no name recognition across the country and was not even well known in the Capitol where until Monday he was the chief policy director for the organizational body of all Republicans in the House of Representatives.
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But that will not stop some conservatives from pitching him as an option in the Nov. 8 election for those who never warmed to Trump and remain adamantly opposed to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
"Donald Trump appeals to the worst fears of Americans at a time we need unity, not division," McMullin wrote in a letter announcing his candidacy. "With the stakes so high for our nation and at this late stage in the process, I can no longer stand on the sidelines."
McMullin's campaign was first reported by MSNBC and BuzzFeed. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
Trump was formally anointed his party's nominee last month after beating 16 rivals in the state-by-state primary contests. But many Republicans have been concerned about Trump's policies, such as his proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, and his free-wheeling, often insulting rhetoric.
McMullin has never held public office. In addition to lacking a quick source of campaign cash, he will face immediate hurdles to try to get his name on enough ballot papers to make himself a serious candidate.
Texas, for example, requires third-party candidates to get more than 79,000 signatures from residents who did not vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. And the deadline for that was in early May.
Deadlines to get on the ballots have also lapsed for North Carolina, Illinois and Florida, all large states that also could be pivotal in the election.
The best McMullin could likely hope for would be to simply play spoiler to Trump in a handful of states, eating away at the New York real estate developer's ability to win states that are generally reliably Republican.
McMullin would join two other third-party hopefuls - Gary Johnson, who was nominated by the Libertarian Party, and Jill Stein, who will represent the Green Party. In recent polls that included Trump, Clinton, Stein and Trump, the two third-party candidates have both struggled to get above 10 percentage points in the polls.
McMullin, who according to his LinkedIn profile worked in Congress since 2013, has been a frequent critic of Trump on social media, calling him an authoritarian and criticizing his stance on civil rights as well as his refusal to release his tax returns.
Prior to working in Congress, McMullin spent 11 years as an operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Trump, meanwhile, was seeking to reset his campaign with a big economy policy speech on Monday after a rough patch last week. He was widely criticized, including by some senior Republicans, for engaging in a public dispute with the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq.
(Writing by Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Frances Kerry and Leslie Adler)