Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
FILE - Businessman Eric Eliason appears for an interview with KUED Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Eliason has qualified to participate in the upcoming Utah Debate Commission debate.

SALT LAKE CITY — A third-party candidate, the United Utah Party's Eric Eliason in the 1st Congressional District, has qualified to participate in the upcoming Utah Debate Commission debate.

Eliason is only the second third-party candidate to meet the commission's 10 percent threshold for participation in a recent poll. Although he was supported by 6.6 percent of respondents, the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

"In this two-party system, I am not supposed to be on that stage," Eliason said, adding that he believes "voters want to put country ahead of party and favor common-sense policies over a candidate funded almost entirely by out-of-state interests."

Eight-term Republican incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop led the field in the poll of 1st District voters with 51 percent, followed by the Democratic candidate, Lee Castillo, with 15.8 percent.

The Green Party candidate, Adam Davis, had 2 percent. Nearly 23 percent of respondents in district that encompasses much of northern Utah said they were undecided.

United Utah Party Chairman Richard Davis said the inclusion of Eliason, who as of midyear had loaned his campaign $106,000, "demonstrates that the United Utah Party is here to stay and will be a powerful force in Utah politics for years to come."

Jim Bennett, the United Utah Party's candidate in last year's special election to fill the vacancy left when Rep. Jason Chaffetz resigned his 3rd District seat, was the first third-party candidate allowed to join a commission-sponsored debate.

Bennett initially missed the threshold by less than half of a percent, but then hit it in a second poll the commission orderedafter deciding the first poll "did not follow the prescribed parameters" used in past elections.

"This is unprecedented," Davis said of the centrist party started in 2017 to bring together disaffected Republicans and Democrats being the first — and so far only — third party to have candidates qualify for debates.

"Our party is barely a year old, and yet we've already been able to make the cut twice," Davis said. He said that "shows we're not just another minor party, we're breaking through in a significant way."

Utah Debate Commission Executive Director Nena Slighting said the threshold is intended to permit "a meaningful discussion of the issues in the time allotted for the debates and we are thrilled when a third-party candidate meets that threshold."

Incumbents are ahead in all of the state's four congressional districts, according to the commission's poll.

Six hundred registered voters in each of the districts were surveyed Aug. 11-27 for the commission by Lighthouse Research about who they would vote for if the election were today, with a portion also being asked about the U.S. Senate race.

The closest competition is in the 4th District, with Rep. Mia Love at 47.5 percent and Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams at 38.3 percent. McAdams' campaign recently released internal numbers putting him within two points of Love.

There were 13.5 percent of voters in the 4th District who said they were undecided in the commission poll.

In what may be Utah's highest-profile race, Republican Senate candidate Mitt Romney is ahead of Democratic Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, 58.6 percent to 18.6 percent, according to the poll.

Fourteen percent of voters said they were undecided about who should replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. The only other candidate to exceed 3 percent support in the Senate race was Libertarian Craig Bowden, with 3.4 percent.

In the 2nd District, Republican Rep. Chris Stewart had the backing of 49 percent of poll respondents, while 26.8 percent said they would vote for Democrat Shireen Ghorbani, and 5.2 percent for Libertarian Jeffrey Whipple.

A United Utah Party candidate in the 2nd District, Jan Garbett, dropped out of the race for personal reasons in July. The poll found 18.5 percent of 2nd District voters were undecided.

Just under 52 percent of 3rd District voters are behind Republican Rep. John Curtis, while 20 percent are for Democrat James Singer, and United Utah Party candidate Timothy Zeidner, with 2.2 percent, trailed Independent American candidate Gregory Duerden, who had 4.4 percent.

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Debates sponsored by the commission begin with the 2nd District candidates on Sept. 17 at Dixie State University, followed by the Senate debate at Southern Utah University on Oct. 9; the 4th District at Salt Lake Community College on Oct. 15; the 1st District at Utah State University on Oct. 17; and the 3rd District at Utah Valley University on Oct. 23.

Tickets for the hourlong debates, all scheduled from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., will be available through the commission's website, utahdebatecommission.org.