Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
FILE - Mitt Romney speaks during the Utah Republican Party state convention at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a huge lead over state Rep. Mike Kennedy with the primary election just a month away, a new poll shows.

And the two Republican U.S. Senate candidates, who meet in a debate next Tuesday, will soon be dueling on the airwaves. Romney has a TV ad coming out next week, while a Kennedy ad started running three weeks ago.

The survey of likely GOP primary voters shows 67 percent favor Romney, while just 24 percent say they will vote for Kennedy in the primary. Another 9 percent are undecided.

"We just kicked off an aggressive ground, mail and TV campaign this past week," Kennedy said in a statement. "With a TV debate approaching early next week, I'm confident that when Utahns know there's a viable and conservative alternative, these numbers will be different, just like they were at the convention."

The Romney campaign had no comment on the poll.

Kennedy and Romney are running to replace retiring Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. The June 26 primary winner will face Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson. Mail-in ballots go out June 6.

Delegates at the state Republican Party convention last month slightly favored Kennedy over Romney, but denied either candidate the outright nomination.

Kennedy and Romney will go head-to-head for the only time next Tuesday at 6 p.m. in a Utah Debate Commission-sponsored televised debate at BYU.

In a new Romney ad, his wife, Ann Romney, touts her husband's business, Olympic and political experience, and says he's a "good man to the core."

Kennedy's spot shows him picking up a can that's being kicked down the road and throwing it in a recycling bin. "If we want to fix our problems in Washington and move our country forward, we can't afford to recycle old ideas," he says.

The poll shows Romney beating Kennedy in most demographic groups, including men, women and Mormons. Dan Jones & Associates queried 295 likely Republican primary voters May 15-25. It has a plus or minus 5.7 percent margin of error.

Hatch's deputy chief of staff tweeted, "Romney is up 43% in a primary poll that started before Kennedy's massive Jeffress catastrophe even happened." Hatch is backing Romney to fill his seat.

Kennedy, a doctor from Alpine, called Texas Baptist minister Robert Jeffress last week to apologize after Romney called the pastor a "religious bigot" in a tweet. Jeffress has made derogatory statements about the LDS Church and other faiths.

Jeffress said on “Fox News Sunday” that Kennedy called to "apologize on behalf of the state of Utah for Mitt Romney's intemperate comments about me."

70 comments on this story

When the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards asked Kennedy on Monday if he had apologized to Jeffress on behalf of the state, he said, "On behalf of what I perceive the state is, I did."

Facing a public backlash, Kennedy said Wednesday he did not apologize on behalf of all Utahns and released a snippet of his conversation with Jeffress in which he says he "would just like to reach out and say I apologize on behalf of the governor's statements. I do not share those and I think most of us would not classify you in those inflammatory terms that he used."