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Jon Huntsman Jr.

Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff have no political worries — at least not now — a new poll shows.

Huntsman, who has proven a popular governor, has a commanding lead over his Democratic opponent, Bob Springmeyer.

Likewise, Shurtleff is way ahead of his Democratic challenger, Jean Welch Hill, pollster Dan Jones & Associates found in a survey of registered voters conducted for the Deseret News and KSL-TV.

Huntsman, who seeks a second four-year term, is ahead of Springmeyer, 78-11 percent; with 2 percent mentioning some other candidate, 8 percent not knowing who they'd vote for and 1 percent refusing to answer the question, Jones found.

Shurtleff, who seeks a third term, leads Hill, 68-17 percent; 2 percent mentioning another candidate, 13 percent not knowing who they'd vote for and 1 percent refusing to answer.

The survey, taken June 16-19 of 405 registered voters statewide, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percent. Jones, contracted with by the newspaper and TV station, is an independent pollster who has done work for Huntsman this year.

The final election is still five months away. And all four candidates in the poll have not yet started their public campaigns. But the Democrats clearly have a long way to go, the poll shows.

In addition to the head-to-head matchups, Jones also asked voters if they approve or disapprove of the incumbents' job performance.

Huntsman has an 84 percent job-approval rating. That's a near-record accomplishment. Former Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is now President Bush's secretary of Health and Human Services, in a few polls had a gubernatorial job approval above 80 percent.

Only 12 percent of Utahns disapprove of the job Huntsman is doing.

Shurtleff gets a 72 percent job approval rating; only 16 percent of Utahns don't like the job the attorney general is doing.

Shurtleff could use an easy re-election this year — he has just undergone yet another leg operation, this time for an infection on a leg that was badly broken last year in a motorcycle accident.

Springmeyer told the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention that even though he is a long shot, he still has a real chance of beating Huntsman. Like Utah's lone Democratic congressman, Rep. Jim Matheson, Springmeyer would need to get all the Democratic vote and most of the independent vote.

But partly-line numbers show he could be elected, Springmeyer said.

However, Jones' new poll shows that Huntsman gets 71 percent of the independent vote and even 53 percent of the Democratic vote. The GOP governor gets 88 percent of the Republican vote.

Springmeyer gets only a third of his own party's vote, as of now. He trails badly in other voter preferences.

Shurtleff has been a national leader in prosecution of polygamist families where the man marries an underage girl — thus committing a sex crime.

He also has supporters among some liberal voters for his advocacy of hate crimes legislation, seeking to include homosexuals as a hate crime victim category, his sympathy with Utah Hispanics over a number of their issues, and other matters.

Shurtleff has the support of 89 percent of Republicans, 46 percent of the independents and 37 percent of Democrats, Jones found.

Huntsman and Springmeyer have mutual respect for each other — having met over the years in Huntsman's role in heading up a state planning committee and Springmeyer's work as a community and economic development expert.

Shurtleff's and Hill's interaction has been a bit more edgy.

Hill works as an attorney for the State Board of Education. In that role, Shurtleff deputized her to act on his office's behalf in certain areas.

But when Shurtleff gave a legal opinion saying the Legislature's two private school voucher bills were constitutional and one could proceed outside of a citizen referendum, Hill and another board attorney disagreed — giving conflicting legal advice to the board, which refused to implement the voucher program during a court challenge last summer.

Shurtleff "fired" Hill as his deputy, but she kept her job with the board. The Utah Supreme Court ruled in the board's favor and vouchers went down in defeat last November in a citizen referendum. Hill then decided to run against Shurtleff.


E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com