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Poll shows Rep. Jim Matheson with 19-point lead over Claudia Wright

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 5:00 a.m. MDT

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, has a 19-point lead over challenger Claudia Wright heading into Tuesday's primary, according to a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll.

A Dan Jones and Associates poll, conducted June 12 to 17 for the two media outlets, showed that likely voters in the race for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District favor Matheson 52 percent to 33 percent.

Fifteen percent were undecided.

The poll included 409 active voters who plan to vote in the primary and has a margin of error of 5 percent.

Given Matheson's popularity and his incumbent status, his lead is not too surprising, said Michael Lyons, a political science professor at Utah State University.

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"He has not been caught in a scandal," Lyons said. "He's a hard-working guy. When you see incumbents seriously challenged, it's because of doubts of integrity or not being responsive to voters."

When it comes to politics, 53 percent of respondents said Matheson isn't liberal enough, while 40 percent said he's "about right," and 3 percent said he's too liberal.

"I'm just being myself," Matheson said. "I'm a Utah Democrat. Some folks want to categorize me. But I'm trying to do the politics I was raised on. Most people in the district are happy with it, even a chunk of Republicans."

For Wright, 11 percent said she is not liberal enough, 49 percent said she was "about right," and 22 percent said she's too liberal.

A majority of respondents — 84 percent — said they were certain about who they are voting for. When the poll was conducted, 26 percent of respondents said they had already voted.

Matheson said he continues to focus on getting as many people to vote for him as possible Tuesday. He's doing that through television and print advertising, direct mail and live phone calls.

"(The poll) is good," he said. "But the only poll that matters is on Election Day."

It's also not surprising that Matheson was faced with a more liberal challenger, Lyons said, adding that Matheson's vote against federal health care reform hurt him politically from the left.

Matheson said he thinks his health care vote hurt him initially when it was so close to the state convention, but he said he wouldn't want to repeal the new health care law. Since that time, he said, people have cared more about creating jobs and fixing the economy.

"I think I have a great record on jobs and the economy," Matheson said.

It was health care reform that got Wright into the campaign, having responded to a Craigslist advertisement for someone to run against Matheson.

Her campaign has focused on election and banking reform.

"I think she's fared quite well, given that she came out of obscurity," Lyons said.

Wright forced Matheson into the first primary election of his career this year during the May 8 state Democratic convention. She came away with 45 percent of delegate votes to Matheson's 55 percent.

But Wright still feels like an underdog running against Matheson. He's the incumbent, has more funding and has wide-reaching advertising.

"All of the above is true and more," Wright said.

The Wright campaign will conduct honk-and-waves this weekend, as well as canvassing voters and direct phone calls. Her first commercials will be broadcast this weekend.

"We're hoping for the best," she said.

e-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com

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