I've never let the boundaries of a district define what I've done. I try to act in the interest of all of the state of Utah. I think people know that.
Copyright 2011, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Incumbency has its privileges, even in a congressional district without an incumbent.
Rep. Jim Matheson leads all challengers, none of whom in these early stages can match his name recognition or likability, in Utah's recently drawn 4th Congressional District, a new poll shows.
The Democratic six-term congressman quickly established himself as the frontrunner in the new district after jumping a week ago from the 2nd District for the 2012 election. But that doesn't mean he isn't in for a tough fight.
"Jim Matheson will have a lot of work to do win," pollster Dan Jones said. "I believe this is one the Democrats are counting on winning, but it's going to be a close race at every level."
The Utah Legislature redrew congressional boundaries this fall to reflect the 2010 census that gave the state a fourth U.S. House seat. Lawmakers carved Matheson's current district four ways. The new 4th District contains southwestern Salt Lake County, western Utah County and all of Juab and Sanpete counties — all heavily Republican.
"I've never let the boundaries of a district define what I've done. I try to act in the interest of all of the state of Utah. I think people know that," Matheson said.
Among Republican contenders, state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom fares best in a head-to-head matchup with Matheson, according to the Deseret News/KSL-TV poll of 341 registered voters in the 4th District.
Dan Jones & Associates found Matheson beating the Orem legislator 50 percent to 41 percent if the election were held today. The poll was conducted Dec. 19-21. It has a 5 percent margin of error.
"I feel good about that," Sandstrom said, noting he entered the race just five weeks ago. "I would expect Matheson to be ahead, quite frankly."
State Rep. Carl Wimmer also picked up 41 percent against Matheson, who in that hypothetical contest had 53 percent support.
"It just means we have to work hard," the Herriman legislator said.
The poll shows Sandstrom and Wimmer in a dead heat for the GOP nomination, with Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love hanging close. State delegates next spring will choose a nominee or send two candidates to a primary election.
"It's going to be hard fought," Jones said. "I don't see any way they can avoid a primary."
Jones sees Wimmer, Sandstrom and Love as viable primary contenders.
"Any one of the three could win it," he said.
Matheson has wider leads against Love and South Jordan lawyer Jay Cobb, who despite little name recognition had 36 percent and 35 percent of the vote, respectively, according to the poll. Being Republican in a mostly Republican district likely accounts for that.
The Democratic congressman does well — as he has in each of his campaigns over the years — with independent voters, winning at least two-thirds of them against each of the four GOP opponents in the poll.
Love found the numbers encouraging. She said they confirm what she believes, that Utahns are looking for someone new to better serve their interests.
"I just see it as a great opportunity. It's a clean slate. I get to focus on the things that are important to all of us," she said.
According to the survey, 69 percent of respondents have never heard of Love, and 80 percent have never heard of Cobb. And among those who know the two candidates, few had formed much of an opinion about them.
Cobb, a former Sen. Bob Bennett staffer, wasn't surprised at his showing because he just started campaigning Dec. 1. He said he's focused right now on making a name with Republican delegates.
Matheson, meanwhile, enjoys high name recognition for better or worse — mostly better. The polls shows 99 percent of voters know him, with 64 percent having a favorable impression and 26 percent an unfavorable impression.
Sandstrom and Wimmer fall somewhere between the extremes.
Though Sandstrom gained notoriety for spearheading Utah's controversial enforcement-only illegal immigration law, 39 percent of voters in the 4th District don't know who he is. Of those who have heard of him, 20 percent have a favorable impression, 15 percent an unfavorable impression and 23 percent no opinion.
"I think once people really get to know me, a lot of that is going to change," he said.
Sandstrom explained that he plans to use multimedia, mailers and community meeting to get his name out.
Wimmer, a Patrick Henry caucus member who has pushed abortion restrictions and easing gun laws, does slightly better than his legislative colleague in terms of name recognition, but has a higher negative rating.
The poll shows 32 percent have not heard of him. Among those who know him, 22 percent have an unfavorable impression, 19 percent a favorable impression and 24 percent no opinion.
"That's a good thing," he said of the 65 percent name recognition regardless of the respondents' opinion of him. "That's much higher than I would have thought."
Wimmer said he plans to hold lots of cottage meetings to spread his name among the electorate.