Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis is in another race for his political life, a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows.

But state Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan — bashed in the media over statements last February that some said were racist — has a 2-to-1 lead over his Democratic challenger, a new poll conducted for the newspaper and TV station by Dan Jones & Associates found.

Curtis, R-Sandy, beat Democrat Jay Seegmiller by just 20 votes in 2006. This election is a rematch, and Jones found the race a statistical tie. If the election in House District 49 were held today, 42 percent of registered voters favor Curtis, 41 percent favor Seegmiller. Two percent mentioned someone else, and 14 percent were undecided.

Buttars, who beat several Republicans in last spring's Salt Lake County GOP Convention to win his party's nomination, is ahead of Democratic challenger John Rendell, 55-27 percent, Jones found in a survey conducted over last weekend. Five percent mentioned some other candidate in the Senate District 10 contest, 13 percent were undecided, Jones found.

Jones polled 251 registered voters in the Curtis/Seegmiller race. That survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.2 percent — and so is a statistical tie.

Jones polled 214 registered voters in the Buttars/Rendell race, with a margin of error of plus or minus 7.0 percent. Buttars' 28-percentage-point lead is outside of the margin of error.

This is the first time that Jones has polled in the two legislative races. Last March Jones conducted what's called a "naked re-elect" survey in Buttars' Senate District 10, asking citizens if they wanted Buttars to run again or not. Then, two-thirds said someone new should serve. But now Buttars is doing fine, and he said he's pleased with the new poll's results.

"I've never had the grass-roots support that I've seen this year. It's been fantastic," said Buttars. The poll results "are exciting, but I take nothing for granted." Buttars said he's held 55 or so cottage meetings with constituents and will hold around 20 more before Election Day. "I've lived in my house for 31 years and people around here know me personally."

Buttars got bad press during the 2008 Legislature when, in debating a school bill, he said: "This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark, ugly thing." Some groups called the statements racist, although Buttars said he didn't mean it to be taken that way. He then apologized. The Salt Lake Chapter of the NAACP called for Buttars to resign, he refused and filed for re-election.

Rendell said he "doesn't see" the poll results as he goes door-to-door campaigning — he sees much more support.

"We are very well-received. People are very receptive to change" in who represents them, Rendell said. "We're not going to change anything; we'll keep on working and running hard" in an attempt to unseat the controversial Buttars, first elected to the Senate in 2000.

Seegmiller said he's "not surprised" by the close poll results of his race. "I figured all along it would be close," Seegmiller said, and feels he has to keep "knocking on doors" as much as he can and work to "get my people out to vote, for sure."

Curtis said he's been working hard this election and knows that "reaching across the aisle" is key to winning re-election. A guy who likes to crunch numbers, Curtis said maybe only 10 percent of District 49 residents are registered Democrats, but there are many more independents who often vote Democratic. He's "absolutely trying to reach out to those voters — emphasizing issues that may not be traditional Republican (campaigning) issues" — like support for public education, funding health care for low-income kids and his work on animal cruelty legislation.

Jones found that Buttars is holding his base — Republicans — and even beating Rendell among independent voters. Rendell has overwhelming support from Democrats. The district usually votes Republican, and any Democratic candidate needs a large chunk of independents to win.

Buttars leads among Republicans, 72-14 percent; among independents, 43-31 percent. Rendell leads among Democrats, 91-4 percent, Jones found.

Meanwhile, Seegmiller gets the independent votes he needs to stay close to Curtis. Jones found that Curtis leads among Republicans, 73-13 percent. Seegmiller leads among Democrats, 92-0 percent (8 percent undecided). But Seegmiller leads Curtis among independents, 58-21 percent.

Buttars maintains his lead among those who said they have "high interest" in this year's races, 58-25 percent. Seegmiller nudges past Curtis, 45-41 percent, among those "high interest" voters — but those results also are within the margin of error.

Democrats have targeted Curtis and Buttars this year, among other potentially vulnerable Republicans, while GOP groups have stepped up to defend the embattled incumbents.


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