Republican Attorney General David Wilkinson holds a slight lead over the man who is seriously considering challenging him for the GOP nomination this year state Public Safety Commissioner John T. Nielsen, a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows.
Wilkinson leads Nielsen among all voters 34 percent to 27 percent. Two percent said they would vote for someone else if the Republican primary election for attorney general were held today and 36 percent didn't know whom they would vote for, found pollster Dan Jones & Associates.Nielsen, who used to be head of prosecution for the Salt Lake County attorney's office, told the Deseret News he is seriously considering running against Wilkinson for the GOP nomination. Nielsen said he'd make up his mind sometime next week. All candidates must file by April 15.
Two local Democratic attorneys, Zane Gill and Paul Van Dam, have already announced their intention to run for attorney general this year.
Wilkinson says he will seek a third term, but hasn't formally announced his candidacy yet.
In a separate Jones poll taken in December but not previously released, the pollster found that 28 percent of those questioned strongly or somewhat approve of the job Wilkinson is doing, 20 percent strongly or somewhat disapprove his job and 51 percent don't know.
Any registered voter can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary elections to be held on Sept. 13. Since there is no registration by party in Utah, Democrats and independents can cross over and vote in the Republican primary.
Since there will likely be a hotly contested GOP gubernatorial primary between Gov. Norm Bangerter and industrialist Jon Huntsman, there is a good likelihood that a Wilkinson-Nielsen attorney general primary would see cross-over voting.
Among Republicans only, Jones found that Wilkinson leads Nielsen 37-25 percent. One percent of the Republicans said they'd vote for someone else and 37 percent didn't know who they would vote for.
Both Wilkinson and Nielsen found good in their numbers.
"Only a 7 percent lead by the incumbent shows me that there is not a great deal of confidence there," said Nielsen. "While the poll is very good, it won't cause me to make up my mind one way or the other," he added.
"The poll does tell me that the incumbent doesn't have a mandate by any means and that there is some real dissatisfaction with the present course of the attorney general's office," Nielsen said.
Wilkinson said the 36 percent undecided tells him a lot of people haven't focused on the race. "When you get below the governor's race and the congressional races, a lot of people just don't know the candidates," Wilkinson said. "I expect that I would get most of those undecided votes, and that would ensure a win."
He said the Republican vote is more important than the overall vote, and there he leads Nielsen by 12 points.
"I would like to come in over 50 percent, of course," Wilkinson said. "But I'm identified with the ins (the incumbents) and people aren't happy and don't clearly see the distinction between the office of attorney general and governor." Wilkinson refers to the lackluster showing in the polls of Bangerter. "How Huntsman getting in the governor's race will affect my race, should John (Nielsen) challenge me, I really don't know."
Wilkinson has been criticized by Democrats, and even some in his own party, for pursuing the appeals of the cable TV decency act. The act, which Wilkinson helped write, was declared unconstitutional in federal district and appeals courts.