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Utahns say Romney the only Republican who can beat Obama, new poll shows

Published: Saturday, March 3 2012 9:24 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Friday, March 2, 2012.

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah voters believe Mitt Romney is the only Republican still in the race who can defeat Democratic President Barack Obama in November, according to a new Deseret News/KSL poll.

The poll also found that Obama has twice as much support as the other three GOP candidates, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich, combined.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said the results show that even in one of the most Republican states in the nation, GOP voters aren't comfortable with some of their choices.

"Even conservative Utah Republicans understand the rest of the pack in the Republican fight are so far to the right that not only are they unelectable, they would govern in a way that would be bad for America," Dabakis said.

Romney "is the most sane and the most reasonable" GOP candidate, he said, calling the only Mormon candidate still in the race and former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City "part of the culture here. He's part of the tribe of a lot of Utahns."

Still, only 9 percent of Democrats surveyed backed Romney as their choice for president, while 85 percent of the state's minority party supported Obama.

Pollster Dan Jones said he's never done a poll "where one candidate was so dominating," with respondents saying, in effect, "if it wasn't for Romney, the election would be over. It would be Obama."

Jones suggested that Utahns likely harbor some resentment against the other GOP candidates who have fought Romney hard for the party's nomination and show no sign of stopping with Super Tuesday just days away.

"He's the favorite son and those were tough contests," Jones said. But, he said, Utah voters would be "more in tune" with the other Republican candidates should one of them become the nominee.

Seventy-one percent of the registered voters surveyed said Romney could defeat Obama in the general election. Only 22 percent said Santorum, Romney's chief rival for the nomination, could beat the incumbent president.

Just 16 percent of the poll respondents said Gingrich would be able to win against Obama. Less than half that number, 7 percent, thought Paul would be victorious as the party's nominee.

And two-thirds said they favored Romney for president compared to 20 percent for the incumbent president. Only 5 percent said they favored Paul; 4 percent, Santorum; and 1 percent, Gingrich.

The statewide poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates of 406 registered voters Feb. 29 through March 1, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Jones pointed out the poll found that confidence in Romney winning the GOP nomination has "gone up measurably" since his last White House run four years ago. Romney lost the GOP nomination in 2008 to Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Then, 62 percent of Utahns surveyed said Romney could become the party's nominee. In the latest poll, that number jumps to 90 percent. And 85 percent of those surveyed after Romney's victory in Michigan said they believe his will be the name on the general election ballot.

And while there has been some talk of the nomination fight continuing through the party's national convention in Tampa this August, 78 percent of the voters surveyed said the race will be settled before then.

Eighty-two percent said they don't believe another candidate will get into the Republican nomination race. Those who did see the chance of a new choice emerging had a long list of suggested candidates, including McCain's running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin; and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said it's extremely unlikely another candidate will jump into the race at this point.

"The real risk, I think, is if Romney doesn’t figure out a way to nail down support and coalesce people behind him," Burbank said. "I don't think Santorum or Gingrich has a serious constituency."

The poll's results, he said, show that Utah is "somewhat different than some other strongly Republican states. There's such confidence in Romney being able to do it" that he is almost automatically seen as the nominee.

Kirk Jowers, a longtime Romney adviser and head of the U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said he believes Utahns are paying more attention to the nomination fight than residents of other states.

Not only are they following Romney's fortunes, Jowers said, for a while they also had another candidate with Utah ties in the running, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Huntsman dropped out in January.

"Utahns are probably right on par with the Washington, D.C. insiders and pundits on the prediction that this is Romney's race to lose," Jowers said. Like him, he said Utahns see that the other candidates "don't have that level of expertise or trust to effectively compete against our incumbent president, Barack Obama."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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