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And the write-in presidential candidates are ...

Voters cast their ballots in the Illinois primary

Voters cast their ballots in the Illinois primary in Hinsdale, Ill., on March 18, 2014. Photo Credit: AP

In Norman Maclean’s semi-autobiographical novel, “A River Runs Through It,” the author recounts the fatal 1942 pistol-whipping of his brother Paul after a contentious late-night poker game. When Mclean’s father, a tough frontier Presbyterian minister, learns of his son’s death, and that all the bones in one of Paul’s hands had been broken, he whispers a single inquiry: “Which hand?”

I’ve always interpreted his anguished question to mean, “Did my son go down fighting?” Its actual meaning has been the subject of debate since the book was published. (It was later made into a pretty good movie.)

The Rev. John Norman Maclean’s words, as I read them, have been nagging at me at all week. A presidential race that looked to be a laugher 10 days ago is now a barnburner. Donald Trump has proved to be that trick candle that won’t be extinguished, and Hillary Clinton has turned out to be, well, Hillary Clinton. The latter has an indubitable bearing on the former.

The dramatic tightening in the polls this week ruined the planned comedic relief I had endeavored to provide exasperated voters in this final pre-Election-Day column. It was to feature both fun and serious recommendations Newsday readers emailed me for write-in presidential candidates: Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former President George H.W. Bush were solid picks. Three Toms were proposed — Hanks, Selleck and Kirkman. Iggy Pop got a nod. So did Bob Dylan. George Carlin was nominated posthumously. I wonder what he would have said about this election.

I got a touching letter from a teacher named Linda Gerver. She nominated a former student named Carley. “She has every attribute I’d like to see in a president,” Gerver wrote. But Carley is only 13.

Several readers reluctantly offered to serve. Any one of them would likely be better than the two main choices offered. Indeed, had the polls not tightened, I’d be writing in Steven Lincoln for president and Dori Cohen for vice president. Steven is a Nassau County police officer who won a Bronze Star in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Reserve officer. Officer Lincoln said I could vote for him as a last resort. Cohen is a world-class Bridge player — she won a silver medal for the United States at the 1994 World Bridge Championships — and now is a criminal defense attorney. Reader Richard Siegelman convincingly offered himself up as a “benevolent dictator.”

But “which hand?” burrows into the conscience. After all this, will those of us spiritually and intellectually resistant to Trump and Clinton go down joking or fighting? The answer, of course, has to be fighting.

That leaves a single choice on Election Day: Evan McMullin for president and Mindy Finn for vice president. McMullin, a former CIA officer and “Never Trump” independent, and Finn, who worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, won’t win in New York, where they’d have to be written in, but they have a very real chance of winning Utah and its six electoral votes. Polls have Utah as a three-way race now.

As unlikely a scenario as it may be, a McMullin win in Utah could prevent both Trump and Clinton from receiving the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency (One scenario being discussed by pollsters would put it at: Clinton: 269, Trump: 263, McMullin: 6.) That would throw the race into the House of Representatives, which would choose a compromise candidate for the presidency.

There are many validated third party candidates: Libertarian Gary Johnson, anti-abortion rights Democrat Henry Hewes and Mike Maturen of the American Solidarity Party were all suggested by readers. But only McMullin has the possibility, however slim, of preventing Clinton or Trump from being our next president. That’s good enough for me.

Evan McMullin has both my vote and my prayers.

William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.

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