Sen. Orrin Hatch, Gov. Gary Herbert convention races too close to call

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 7:28 p.m. MDT

Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop laugh at a remark during a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate construction of the first Falcon Hill commerical building at Hill Air Force Base in Layton, Utah, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Whether Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Orrin Hatch have enough delegate support to avoid a primary is too close to call, a new poll shows.

The Utah Foundation survey of GOP delegates, who will convene Saturday at the party's state convention, found Herbert and Hatch both had just one point over the 60 percent threshold needed to become the party's outright nominee. Herbert's closest challenger is former state Rep. Morgan Philpot and Hatch's is former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist.

But the poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for the nonprofit research group and the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.43 percent, making the outcome of the convention unpredictable.

"That's right in line with what we've been seeing," Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen said of the senator's internal polling, also done by Jones.

"It's nice to have that support going in, but that's not going to slow us down from being well-prepared for the convention Saturday," Hansen said. "While we would like 60 percent, if that doesn't happen we'll be ready for a primary."

Jones said he imagined Liljenquist, supported by 21 percent of the delegates polled, would "be very grateful if he gets a primary," even though a place on the June 26 ballot would mean an expensive face-off against the 36-year veteran senator.

Liljenquist could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Still, Jones said, Hatch is more likely to face a primary than Herbert. Philipot is a distant second in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination with the support of only 12 percent of delegates. Tea party organizer David Kirkham follows with 9 percent.

A primary is likely on the Democratic side, where the poll found Hatch's 2006 opponent, XMission founder Pete Ashdown, with 39 percent of the delegate vote, while former state Sen. Scott Howell had 31 percent.

In the hotly contested 4th Congressional District race, Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love is leading with the support of 38 percent of the GOP delegates surveyed, followed by former state Reps. Carl Wimmer, with 25 percent, and Stephen Sandstrom, with 18 percent.

In the 2nd Congressional District race, author Chris Stewart is the leader, backed by 34 percent of the delegates surveyed. The next-highest response from delegates was that they were undecided, followed by former Utah House Speaker Dave Clark, with 21 percent.

Both races are expected to go to a primary. But incumbent GOP Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz have little to be concerned about before the general election because they have sizeable leads in the 1st and 3rd Districts, respectively, according to the survey.

The poll of 435 of the nearly 4,000 GOP delegates was taken April 4-11. The congressional district results have a margin of error of plus or minus 9.1 percent. A total of 421 of the more than 2,000 Democratic delegates were surveyed April 4-11 and the U.S. Senate race results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.35 percent.

Also polled were Utah voters, who won't have a say in the nominating process unless there is a primary.

The biggest difference between voters and delegates may be in the 4th District, where the only Democratic member of Utah's congressional delegation, Rep. Jim Matheson, is the candidate with the most support from GOP voters.

Matheson, who currently represents the 2nd District, is running for the additional seat Utah earned in the most recent census. He has no Democratic opponent and is supported by 47 percent of all voters and 80 percent of those in his party.

Among GOP voters, 23 percent in the 4th District are for Matheson, 22 percent for Wimmer, 12 percent for Sandstrom and just 5 percent for Love, who has the most support from Republican delegates.

The survey also found that more delegates from both parties, along with voters, saw themselves as more moderate in 2012 than in 2010, the year longtme U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted at the state GOP convention.

Support for the tea party dropped from 55 percent of Republican delegates in 2010, to 25 percent this election year, and from 46 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2012 among GOP voters.

Also up is the number of Republican delegates who identified themselves as Mormon, 92 percent this year compared to 78 percent in 2010. Thirty-eight percent of Democratic delegates said they were LDS.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged its members to participate in party caucuses this year and did not hold church meetings on the March nights where delegates were elected.

More information is available at the foundation's website, utahfoundation.org.

Contributing: Dennis Romboy

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

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