Utah is still as red as ever when it comes to presidential politics, but a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows Republican John McCain's numbers slipping slightly while Democrat Barack Obama's are climbing.
Fifty-seven percent of the registered voters polled said if the election were held today, they'd vote for McCain. That's down from the 62 percent who said they backed him in September.
Obama, though, saw his support in Utah increase from 24 percent last month to 32 percent. A total of 1,205 registered voters were surveyed Oct. 24-30 by Dan Jones & Associates for the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.
"It's been a long time since a Democrat's done that well," pollster Dan Jones said. He said some Utahns may still resent McCain for beating their choice for president, Mitt Romney, the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and a Mormon.
Not only did McCain win the GOP nomination, he passed Romney over for the No. 2 spot on the ticket in favor of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin initially boosted McCain in national polls but has become increasingly unpopular nationwide, and, Jones said, in Utah.
But McCain's Utah-based Western states regional coordinator, Tim Bridgewater, said the numbers are due to the campaign's focus on battleground states. Even the Utah campaign is directing all of its resources toward voters in Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico.
"We're confident we'll win Utah," Bridgewater said. Obama has had the benefit of more spending, he said, including a half-hour infomercial this week that ran on the major television networks.
"We just have not had any focus on the campaign here and Barack Obama has had national campaigning," Bridgewater said. "Some of that has probably resonated with Utah voters, where we have run a very targeted campaign."
Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and head of Utah Lawyers for McCain, said the poll results reflect the Republican candidate's difficult month on the campaign trail.
"McCain is still cruising to an easy victory here in Utah," Jowers said. "Obama has seen a strong increase in support across the nation, and this poll shows that Utah is also caught up in that momentum."
Obama's supporters in Utah couldn't be more pleased with the candidate's poll showing.
"I am actually thrilled by that," said Misty Fowler, who is the head of Utah for Obama. "It means that people are not only paying attention but that Utah sees the idea of hope in Obama. I think that's going to be great for our local down-ticket elections as well."
Fowler said Obama's Utah supporters were warned not to expect much from the state.
"The fact that it's looking like a Democrat will do better than any Democrat has done in a long time in Utah says a lot about the volunteers," she said. "It really is exciting to see us having made this much progress."
Nikki Norton, one of the Democratic National Committee's paid staffers on the Obama campaign in Utah, acknowledged that an Obama victory here is a long shot.
"If we can pick up more votes for Democrats in Utah, that's a win," Norton said.
The poll also asked Utahns whether they approved of President Bush's job performance. Respondents were almost evenly split, with 49 percent saying they approved of what Bush, a Republican, is doing and 48 percent saying they disapproved.
While that's better than the president is doing nationally, his support is still dropping in Utah. Gallup Polls reported that his latest quarterly average for the nation, around 29 percent, is among the worst ever measured for a president.
Utahns liked Bush better last June, when 57 percent said they approved of his job performance and 42 percent said they disapproved. Jowers said the numbers show how difficult it is for a Republican to win the presidential race."Utah probably remains Bush's biggest supporter, but the fact that he didn't clear 50 percent has to be alarming," Jowers said, adding that McCain will have "to pull along a number of Bush haters just to have a chance of winning this."
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