SALT LAKE CITY — The new United Utah Party's candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, Jim Bennett, will be allowed to participate in next month's televised Utah Debate Commission debate after all.
The results of a second poll were announced Friday that showed Bennett reached the minimum 6 percent threshold of support required to qualify to be on the KBYU stage Oct. 18 for the hourlong debate.
Bennett had missed the threshold by less than half of a percent in an earlier poll. The commission ordered a new poll after determining the first "did not follow the prescribed parameters" used in past elections.
Provo Mayor John Curtis, the Republican candidate in the race, topped the new poll with 54.33 percent support. Democrat Kathie Allen, a Cottonwood Heights physician, was second, with the backing of 16.67 percent of Utahns polled.
Bennett said since the first poll was released Sept. 12, he has stepped up his campaign by buying additional digital billboards along I-15, distributing more lawn signs and making more appearances.
"The issue we're finding is people just don't know who I am, and they don't know what the party is, which is not surprising. We've only been on the ballot six weeks," he said. "The second poll gave us a chance to work a little harder."
Curtis spokesman Danny Laub said the front-runner welcomes "different voices to the race." But he said the poll results make it "clear John's hard work and message of getting things done for Utah are resonating across the district."
Allen looks forward to debating Bennett, her campaign spokesman, Daniel Friend, said.
"We are happy that Bennett's going to be in the debate," Friend said. "He brings a unique perspective that we feel deserves to be heard. He is breaking the labels of identity politics, which we are trying to do as well."
Libertarian candidate Joe Buchman, who came in fourth in the poll with just over 2 percent, offered his party's congratulations to Bennett "for cracking the glass ceiling of political debates in Utah."
Bennett is the first third-party candidate to make the cut for a debate sponsored by the commission created in 2014. A single response put him just at the threshold, the commission's executive director, Nena Slighting, said.
The commission's formula for determining who gets to debate is taking the actual 10 percent threshold of support and subtracting the poll's margin of error — in this case, plus or minus 4 percent.
She said the issue with the earlier poll, conducted as part of a larger survey for UtahPolicy.com, was that the question about the 3rd District race was not asked first.
"The order of questioning was not as prescribed. We felt that we needed to be consistent with our previous polls," Slighting said. "Had it been asked first, we could have gone with it."
Both polls were conducted by Dan Jones & Associates. A total of 600 registered voters in the 3rd District were surveyed Sept. 14-20 for the new poll, and Bennett hit exactly 6 percent with the support of 36 respondents.
He had 5.59 percent in the previous poll. Curtis' numbers were also lower in that poll, at just over 50 percent, while Allen did slightly better, reaching almost 20 percent.
Slighting said the commission set the threshold to encourage third-party candidates to work hard.
"We're really giving them every shot to participate," Slighting said. "I think it's great that a candidate has finally done so. But we've always wanted viable candidates to participate in our debates."
The United Utah Party was formed this summer by disaffected Republicans and Democrats. Bennett, a former Republican and son of late Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, sued the state to get on the special congressional election ballot.
The election is to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who resigned June 30 and is a Fox News contributor. The district includes portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties, and Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wasatch counties.
There are a total of eight candidates in the race, including another third-party candidate, Independent American Jason Christensen; unaffiliated candidate Sean Whalen; and write-in candidates Brendan Phillips and Russell Paul Roesler.