Industrialist Jon Huntsman holds an early lead over Gov. Norm Bangerter in the Republican gubernatorial contest, a just-completed Dan Jones & Associates poll shows, but both men trail Democrat Ted Wilson in head-to-head matchups.
The governor said he expected such a "first-blush" lead by Huntsman and vowed to beat him in a primary runoff, if he can't eliminate him at the state GOP convention.Huntsman believes his lead will only increase and that he will win the GOP nomination.
Wilson leads Bangerter 58-30 percent in a head-to-head matchup, and Wilson leads Huntsman 50-33 percent. The former Salt Lake City mayor said he's not worried that Huntsman does better than the governor against him. "I'll take a 17-point lead any day. That is very good."
Huntsman announced his intentions to run Wednesday. Thursday, Jones polled 604 Utahns matching Huntsman, Bangerter and Republican businessman Merrill Cook against each other and against Wilson.
The most important matchup, for now, is Bangerter vs. Huntsman. Jones found that if the primary election were held today, 46 percent would vote for Huntsman, 34 percent for Bangerter, 2 percent for someone else, and 18 percent didn't know.
Political experts believe neither the governor nor Huntsman can get 70 percent of the delegate vote in the GOP state convention June 11, and so the pair will face each other in a Sept. 13 primary election. If the early poll figures hold up, Huntsman would need only 5 percent more Republican support and he'd be the GOP nominee.
But the governor doesn't believe those numbers will hold up. Neither does Wilson. "Jon Huntsman has an almost coronation atmosphere about him now," Wilson said. "That's understandable. But the governor is still the man to beat. No one is perfect, and the people know our (Wilson's and Bangerter's) warts; we've been in public life for so long. They don't know Jon's. Everyone has warts, and when the public sees Jon's, the Bangerter-Huntsman race will tighten up."
Huntsman said he was pleased and surprised by the poll results. "I'm pleased and grateful that the people of Utah, just one day after my entry into the race, would show such support." He said he was surprised by his showing considering that in some parts of the state the news of his entry was just reaching citizens Thursday evening when Jones polled.
Huntsman's lead over Bangerter closes somewhat when just Republicans or "very conservative" voters are considered. Huntsman leads 48-40 among Republicans, 46-41 among those who said they are very conservative.
But Utah has an open primary system. Voters cast secret ballots for either Republicans or Democrats in the primary election, and since, at this time, it looks as if there will be no overpowering Democratic primary contests, it is likely many Utahns will vote in the Republican governor's race.
Cook said he is encouraged by the poll, considering he is up against "such political heavyweights." He said if he runs, he will do so as an independent, "and I think future polls will show that the independents are with me."
"I didn't ask for this (intraparty) fight (with Huntsman)," Bangerter said Saturday. "But I'm going to win the nomination, and that victory will give me the momentum to beat Ted Wilson. So let's get on with it."
Huntsman said as his campaign gets going he'll have specific stands on numerous issues, but one goal he'll have if elected governor will be reinstating the federal income tax deduction on state income tax returns. That deduction was removed by Bangerter and the Legislature last year. "One reason I think my lead (over Bangerter) will increase is that Utahns will realize what that federal deduction meant to them when they file their taxes April 15," Huntsman said. "A lot of people will be paying more state tax this year."
Former congressman Dan Marriott said late last week that he was considering getting into the Republican race. But Saturday Marriott said he wouldn't be a candidate and is supporting Huntsman. Marriott and other Republicans met at Huntsman's home Saturday to organize the campaign and discuss strategies.
Dave Buhler, Bangerter's campaign manager, said he and the governor weren't concerned about Marriott's endorsement of Huntsman. "Jon supported Dan when Dan ran (for governor) in 1984. No big deal." Marriott said his endorsement and "my people" coming over to the Huntsman camp should ensure a Huntsman primary victory.
The governor has been languishing in public opinion polls ever since he suggested a $200 million tax increase in December 1986. The governor has improved in the polls recently, but Huntsman and his supporters say the governor hasn't done the necessary things needed to unify Republican support. Huntsman got in the race because he feared Bangerter would lose to Wilson, those close to him say.
Jones also asked the 604 Utahns their impressions of Wilson, Bangerter, Huntsman and Cook. Wilson had the best impression; 72 percent have a very or somewhat favorable impression of him. The governor had the most unfavorable impression, 46 percent had a very or somewhat favorable impression of the governor, but 49 percent had an unfavorable impression of him. Almost everyone had heard of Wilson and the governor.
For Huntsman, 39 percent had a favorable impression; 8 percent unfavorable; 29 percent had heard of him, but had no opinion; and 21 percent had never heard of Huntsman. For Cook, 20 percent had a favorable impression; 27 percent unfavorable; 32 percent had heard of him, but had no opinion; and 19 percent had never heard of Cook.