WASHINGTON – Not so long ago, a legion of Texans were in contention to wind up on a presidential ticket this fall. None made it. And then, out of nowhere a few weeks ago, a woman with Texas roots burst onto the national scene as an independent candidate for vice president.
Her name is Mindy Finn, and she is a native of Kingwood, Texas. Up until her launch as a candidate only a month ago, she was a nationally unknown political consultant in Washington.
But amid the chaos and disgust of the 2016 presidential campaign, there is a real chance she could be the first non-major party vice presidential candidate in a generation to win electoral votes come next Tuesday.
On Oct. 6, she joined the presidential ticket of a fellow Republican, Evan McMullin, a renegade who left the party as part of the “Never Trump” movement.
It’s an independent bid, with no affiliation to any of the peripheral political parties. The McMullin-Finn organization has secured ballot access in 34 states, according to the campaign website. As of mid-October, the three-month campaign had raised a little over $1 million, and a staff of professional mostly anti-Trump GOP consultants is running the organization.
“I don’t see how I can comfortably fit in a party that normalizes the bigotry of Donald Trump,” Finn said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.
“I see what’s happening in the two major parties right now as an attack on our system and our future,” she later added.
It’s a risky gambit for both McMullin and Finn: They’re career Republicans who’ve worked on Capitol Hill, in Finn’s case as a consultant. Their campaign is blowing up the GOP and, possibly, their future careers.
They’re running as the conservative anti-Trumps, arguing that a modern political party should not harbor the racist, sexist and anti-Semitic tones coming out of some pockets of the Trump support base.
“She’s decided to endure all of the slings and arrows that will come from those demanding all Republicans fall in line because she knows that it is important to take a stand now, rather than only taking a stand when it is convenient,” said Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, a friend of Finn’s.
This is no half-baked campaign.
Polls show McMullin, a Mormon, is within striking distance of winning Utah. Some conservatives fantasize that the Utah win could result in a 269-269 electoral vote tie between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton – throwing the election to the House of Representatives.
Oddly enough, Texans will not technically be able to vote for Finn: She signed onto the campaign too late to make the state’s ballot. In Texas, where McMullin is a certified write-in candidate, as well as in several other states, McMullin’s running mate is officially Nathan Johnson, someone the campaign has said served as a “temporary placeholder” before McMullin decided on Finn as his running mate.
“Sure, it’s bittersweet, but I view us as a ticket and I’m just happy to support our ticket and what it stands for,” she said.
Born in Houston and raised in Kingwood, Finn was a standout at Kingwood High as a drill team officer, a National Honor Society member and math tutor.
Many back home are startled to see their friend running for vice presidency.
“I’m in touch with a fair number of people from Kingwood, because some are personal friends, some just through Facebook, but there’s definitely been people who’ve come out of the woodwork since the announcement that I knew in high school,” she said.
“That’s been one of the surprises of the process … it’s been a pleasant surprise is what I keep hearing is all of these people from Kingwood who are feeling inspired and hopeful and proud that their hometown girl is running for vice president,” she added.
After graduation, she attended Boston University and for a short time was a journalist. Eventually she made her way into Republican politics, working on Capitol Hill, including for U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio).
But she also had a rare talent among both Republicans and women in the mid-2000s: She could code.
Finn was one of the earliest pioneers of a political digital campaign, working for George W. Bush‘s 2004 re-election and Mitt Romney’s first presidential campaign in 2007.
She acknowledged the difficulty of the field at that time.
“You have barriers of people who were slow to adapt to the changing media landscape and the way that the people like to engage in politics today, but nonetheless, I charged forward,” she said.
She made enough of a mark that amid this vice presidential run, a number of Republican friends and allies said it was her greatest strength.
“Mindy was a leader in the digital space before there really was a digital space,” said Phil Musser, a Republican who worked with her on the Romney campaign. “At every turn in her career she has been looking around the corner to identify and help build the next big thing.”
“She’s always been thinking about new ideas and new horizons, probably something that stems from her Texas roots.”
She went on to work for the Republican National Committee, consult for Google and work for Twitter – long before many in politics understood the platform.
In more recent years, she was known for founding a networking non-profit called Empowered Women.
Laura Cox Kaplan, a native of Rising Star, Texas who now lives in the Washington area, came to know Finn while serving on the Empowered Women board.
She called Finn “a tremendous influence … for young women, in particular.”
“What’s really special about her, even before she threw her hat in the ring — which was an incredibly brave thing to do – she was charging new ground in redefining feminism as a conservative, Republican ideal,” Kaplan said.
Finn speaks in aspirational tones about the integrity of democracy and the pursuit of happiness. But what she essentially did in committing to this role was declare war on a party she has nurtured for much of her adult life.
Consultants, party officials and officeholders have swung erratically back and forth between supporting and opposing Trump since he secured the nomination in May. Now, in the twilight of the campaign, most are coming home and falling in line.
And yet, a stubborn and small band of Never Trumpers holds out, leaving the entire party bracing for a civil war as soon as this election concludes.
“War paint is on,” tweeted John Weaver, another GOP holdout with Texas roots.
Finn said she sees the GOP going in two directions. The first, which she treats with skepticism, is that Republicans come out “full-throatedly” against the forces that came to the fore of the Trump candidacy: racism, sexism and religious bigotry.
The other choice would blow apart American politics.
“If they fail to do that, then 30-40 percent, potentially more, [of the GOP] ultimately will break off and form its own party or organization — but probably a party — that can run actually candidates and be elected to office and have an impact on the governing agenda,” she said.
There will also likely be retribution for Finn. She is a consultant by trade, and those in the campaign concede they may be on blacklists for going against party leadership this year.
“We’re all doing this knowing that we’re potentially limiting future career opportunities,” said Sarah Rumpf, a Texan who is working on the campaign’s digital communications side. “We realize this is professionally risky.”
Either way, there are serious struggles in the Republican party. The coarsened rhetoric of this campaign has left many Republicans disillusioned about their future. They say they cannot support a candidate as personally objectionable as Trump, but Clinton’s own legal complications repel them.
They have no political home. And so, in this moment, a small group of them in Texas and elsewhere are giving the McMullin-Finn campaign serious consideration.
“I think you look at someone like Evan, who’s running with a vice presidential candidate, Mindy Finn, and it resonated so much with Republican women,” said Randan Steinhauser, a member of the Republican Party of Texas executive committee.
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