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Deseret Morning News graphic

Utahns like Mitt Romney, and nearly half already say the Massachusetts governor would get their votes if he runs for president in 2008, a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll shows.

As several presidential hopefuls, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., are getting closer to announcing their intentions for 2008, the newspaper and TV station decided to find out who the early — very early — leading candidates are in the minds of Utahns.

Romney is by far the best liked, according to the survey conducted last week by Dan Jones & Associates. His high-profile leadership of the 2002 Winter Games in Utah gave him much positive exposure in the state.

Forty-four percent of Utahns said they would vote for Romney for president if the election were today.

Next comes McCain, who is favored by 15 percent of Utahns.

Utah is a very Republican state, especially when it comes to national politics. So it makes sense that national Democrats thinking about running for president wouldn't do very well here. The state last voted for a Democrat for president in 1964.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., gets 7 percent support here, Jones found. Sen. Barak Obama, D-Ill., gets 5 percent, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, gets only 3 percent support, Jones found.

GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has already said he's backing McCain, should the senator run.

U.S. Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, like Romney, a fellow member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The "Mormon issue" for Romney was highlighted recently when several leading Utah Republicans began a heavily scrutinized effort to organize support for the governor through a Brigham Young University business alumni organization.

Early media reports said leaders of the LDS Church had endorsed the effort, but the church denied that and Romney-backers quickly stepped away from it, saying church leaders really didn't even know about the alumni effort at BYU, which is owned and operated by the church.

Romney predictably gets high support from Utah Republicans and members of the LDS Church, Jones found.

Sixty percent of Republicans favor Romney. McCain gets only 14 percent of his party members' support.

Romney gets 33 percent of the independent vote; McCain gets 21 percent.

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Romney's surname is a well-known in many LDS populations, and the Massachusetts governor gets 55 percent of the LDS vote, Jones found. McCain gets 14 percent and every other candidate gets only single digit support.

As of June, Romney's various political action committees had raised $1.6 million. Forty-five percent of that, or $732,500, came from Utahns, an earlier Morning News analysis showed.

Even though Huntsman is backing McCain, Romney's largest donor in Utah was the governor's father, philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., who has given Romney $128,500.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com