Even many GOP voters support Matheson

Published: Saturday, July 22 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Deseret Morning News graphic

U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson has turned many 2nd Congressional District Republicans into political schizophrenics, a new poll shows.

Matheson, a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, holds an overwhelming 64-23 percent lead over his GOP challenger, state Rep. LaVar Christensen, a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV survey finds.

Why can many 2nd District Republicans be said to have politically split personalities? Because they support Matheson and then express their intent to vote for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in Hatch's re-election this year.

For example, in the 2nd District alone, Matheson gets 64 percent support while Hatch gets 63 percent support — from the same people.

By contrast, the new survey by pollster Dan Jones & Associates shows that if the election were held today, the incumbent GOP House members in the 1st and 3rd congressional districts hold healthy leads over their Democratic challengers:

First District Rep. Rob Bishop leads Democrat Steve Olsen 57-23 percent. In the 3rd District, Rep. Chris Cannon leads Democrat Christian Burridge 56-24 percent.

The new poll found that Matheson leads Christensen, a Draper conservative, even among those who said they are Republicans. He dominates Christensen among Democrats and those who said they are political independents, Jones found.

Across Utah, Hatch leads his Democratic challenger Pete Ashdown 63-21 percent — just about the same numbers by which Matheson leads Christensen. (Jones is an independent pollster hired by the newspaper and TV station; this year he has also done polling work for Hatch.)

Democratic Party chairman Wayne Holland knows that Matheson's current appeal likely won't hold up through the fall's campaign — as President Bush and other leading Republicans come to town to push for Christensen and other GOP candidates.

But Matheson should still remain strong in his district, says Holland. "Jim is personable and well-liked — I see it not only in Salt Lake County but in Washington and Iron counties also as I travel the state." The 2nd District includes eastern Salt Lake County, a northeastern sliver of Utah County and counties to the east and south.

"We're looking forward to some fun in the fall," said Jeff Hartley, GOP executive director. "Few people know LaVar. Those numbers will shift as they get to know him. Jim plays it up when he votes with the (House) Republicans. He votes with President Bush like 40 percent of the time. But he's still a Democrat, not a Republican, and we're going to point that out."

Still, after ruminating over the numbers for a moment, Hartley admits: "Jim is a likable guy. People just like him."

In fact, step into the 2nd District, and GOP organizers in heavily Republican Utah might think they've stumbled into an alternate universe — things are just cattywampus.

Look at some of the numbers Matheson is putting up against Christensen:

• Matheson leads 49-39 percent among those who said they are Republicans.

• Among "very conservative" voters, Matheson leads 44-41 percent.

• Matheson leads 55-31 percent among members of the LDS Church (most of whom vote Republican).

• Among voters outside of Salt Lake County, mainly in heavily Republican Washington and Iron counties, Matheson leads 60-28 percent.

In a Morning News/KSL-TV poll taken earlier this year, Matheson's job approval rating topped even that of GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., the Democrat getting the highest approval ratings of any Utah politician.

The new survey, taken July 14-20, shows Matheson has come down from that job-approval stratosphere.

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