SALT LAKE CITY — The political tide that seems to be favoring Republicans across the nation appears to be sweeping Utah's U.S. Senate race toward a landslide.
The latest Dan Jones & Associates poll for KSL and the Deseret News shows Republican Mike Lee in a commanding position, even if incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett had been on the ballot as an independent.
Six weeks before Election Day, it seems clear Democrat Sam Granato has failed to catch fire as a candidate. The poll indicates he's losing out to Lee in every county in the state.
When conservative Lee ousted Sen. Bob Bennett at the Republican convention, some commentators said he was too much of an extremist. They claimed the convention delegates did not represent Republicans statewide.
But the poll shows a solid majority ready to vote for Lee. He's beating Granato 52 percent to 25 percent. Scott Bradley of the Constitution Party gets 4 percent.
Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Lee is ahead even in Salt Lake County.
"The poll results show that Mike Lee is on the right of probably mainstream Utah, but he's right there. He's with them. And they don't feel he's extreme," Jowers said.
Randy Shumway, of Dan Jones & Associates, said Lee is winning support even from a few registered Democrats.
"Mike Lee is getting votes from all of the conservatives, many of the moderates and even some of the self-described liberals," he said.
Shumway said Lee is getting a lot of help from an anti-federal tide among many voters.
"They perceive the federal government as having overreached, as being excessively inefficient," he said. "Therefore, these individuals are saying 'We want to vote for someone who's going to go to Washington, D.C., and give push-back.' "
Moderate voters nationally swung toward Democrats in 2008 and toward Republicans this year. Jowers said it reflects anger toward whichever party is in charge. "The middle has not found a home," he said.
The poll asked voters whom they'd vote for if Bennett were running as an independent. He got 32 percent to Lee's 37 percent, which trounces Granato almost 2 to 1.
"I believe very strongly if I had emerged from the convention, I would have won the Republican primary," says Bennett. "Then, been in a very strong position to win the general election."
The only legal way Bennett could have stayed in the race was to mount a difficult write-in campaign.
"The consequences of my running as an independent, in terms of dividing the party, dividing the state, adding to the bitterness of the current political dialogue, were such that I decided I don't need to hold office that badly," Bennett said.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. It's based on interviews with 600 voters.