SALT LAKE CITY — Now that Utah's favorite son Mitt Romney is no longer a candidate for president, "undecided" is the top choice of the state's Republicans in the party's 2016 nomination race.
A new UtahPolicy.com poll found that just over one-fourth, 26 percent, of Utah Republicans haven't picked a preferred presidential candidate yet. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was the candidate with the most support so far, 22 percent.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a close ally of Utah Sen. Mike Lee, followed with 13 percent. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who like Cruz and Lee is aligned with the tea party movement, was favored by 9 percent.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had the support of 6 percent of Utah Republicans, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, another candidate tied to the tea party movement, had 6 percent. Other candidates all polled at 5 percent or less.
The poll was conducted March 30-April 7 by Dan Jones & Associates of nearly 300 Utah voters who said they were Republicans, and has a margin of error of plus or minus approximately 6 percent.
"The poll probably reflects that Republicans really don't know these other candidates," state Republican Party Chairman James Evans said. "We wouldn't have this problem if we just had Mitt Romney on the ticket."
Evans said he is still holding out hope Romney will make a third run for the White House, an idea the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics toyed with but rejected earlier this year.
"I just don't see any of these candidates capturing a commanding lead," Evans said.
Utah Republicans will cast their ballots for their presidential pick either online or at their mass caucus meetings next year on March 22.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said with so many GOP contenders, it's no surprise there's no clear favorite this early in the race for the White House.
"Utah voters are used to saying Mitt Romney is their choice," Burbank said. "With this group, I think what you see is the same problem Republicans in general are having. They have a lot of candidates."
Democrats are in the opposite situation, with former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton already viewed as the likely nominee. Fifty-seven percent of Utah Democrats want her to be their party's nominee for 2016.
But one-quarter of the nearly 100 Democrats in the same Utah poll like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has said repeatedly she isn't running for president despite a strong push from the left wing of the party.
Vice President Joe Biden, who also is not in the race, is backed by 9 percent of the nearly 100 Utah voters who said they were Democrats. Their results have a margin of error of plus or minus about 10 percent.
Clinton became the first 2016 presidential candidate to hire staff in Utah, naming Ben Haynes, who worked on Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill's re-election and the Count My Vote initiative, the state's grass-roots organizer for the campaign.
The hire is part of the Clinton campaign's "Ramp Up Grassroots Organizing Program" to place staff in all 50 states by the end of May.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said the position may only be temporary. Utah is, after all, one of the most Republican states in the nation and has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
"Still, we're excited to have a candidate have an operation here," Corroon said. "It's always good to have anybody in Utah working with our votes and working with our elected officials from either side of the aisle."
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