Nearly two-thirds of the Republicans who plan to vote in Utah's presidential primary election said they would cast their ballot for Mitt Romney, a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll found.
The state's Democrats, meanwhile, strongly favored Barack Obama. The Illinois senator had the support of 42 percent of Utah Democrats who said they planned to vote, compared to 18 percent who said they would vote for former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and 16 percent for Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
Both Republican and Democratic voters in Utah will go to the polls on Feb. 5, 2008, to help their parties select a presidential nominee. The poll by Dan Jones & Associates asked respondents whom they would vote for in the Republican and Democratic primaries.
Those responses were adjusted to reflect only those who intended to vote in their parties' primary. A total of 409 Utahns statewide were surveyed Sept. 29-Oct. 4 for the poll, which has a margin of error of 5 percent.
Pollster Dan Jones said the Utahns surveyed knew more about the presidential race than he had expected, especially since the general election will not be held until November 2008. "They seemed much more knowledgeable at this point," Jones said. "I think much of that is due to Mitt Romney."
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is well-known to Utahns as the leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as are a majority of the state's residents.
Although Romney trails in national polls, he has been a favorite in GOP-dominated Utah. A Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll in November 2006 found that nearly half of the Utahns surveyed said they would vote for Romney for president.
Since then, Romney has launched his campaign and returned several times to the state for contributions. By midyear, Utahns had given Romney nearly $4 million, trailing behind only Californians in their financial support for his candidacy.
The size of Romney's lead in the new poll, though, stunned even Jones. "To have 65 percent of those who would vote in a Republican primary support you is almost unheard of," the longtime pollster said.
Romney's nearest competitors were in the single digits.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who leads among Republicans in the national polls, was the choice of just 8 percent of respondents in the Utah poll. Arizona Sen. John McCain has the backing of several prominent Utah Republicans, including Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., but was picked by only 6 percent of Utahns in the poll.
Both Giuliani and McCain also have held fund-raisers in Utah, as has Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. Paul ended up with support of 1 percent of respondents, less than the 3 percent who said they planned to vote for former Tennessee senator and actor Fred Thompson.
The state's minority party also bucked national trends. Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, but she trailed both Obama and Edwards in the Utah poll. In the 1992 presidential election, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, finished third in Utah.
Obama's popularity here didn't surprise Utah for Obama's Nikki Norton, especially after a hastily organized rally near Park City this past August attracted hundreds of Utahns who wanted to hear from the candidate.
"Obama is showing he can reach out to people who aren't normally part of the process, like Utah Democrats," Norton said. "That he took the time to stop and speak to Utahns ... It shows he listens."
Edwards was the first Democratic candidate in the 2008 race to come to the state, but he only appeared at a private fund-raiser. Clinton is scheduled to come later this month, but no public appearances have been announced.Two other Democratic candidates, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, spoke to Utah Democrats at party events in July and held fund-raisers. Four percent of poll respondents supported Richardson, and 1 percent said they would vote for Dodd.