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Sen. Orrin Hatch holds a good lead over his Democratic opponent, attorney Pat Shea, as the election season nears its official start, the June 28 primary, the latest Deseret News/KSL poll shows.

Neither Hatch nor Shea have a primary contest, and Shea has been searching for ways to engage Hatch early in the race.Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found in a poll conducted this past week that if the election were held today, Hatch would be supported by 62 percent of Utahns, Shea by 26 percent. Two percent mentioned someone else and 10 percent were undecided, Jones found.

Jones questioned 603 adults in telephone interviews over two nights, May 31 and June 1. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Jones also asked those interviewed if they had heard of Hatch and Shea, and if so if they had a favorable or unfavorable impression of them.

Sixty-eight percent of those questioned had a favorable impression of Hatch, 24 percent an unfavorable impression, 6 percent had heard of Hatch but had no impression and only 1 percent hadn't heard of the 18-year incumbent GOP senator.

Even though Shea ran for governor two years ago (he was eliminated in the Democratic primary), he is still not as well-known in the state as Hatch. Twenty-one percent had a favorable impression of Shea, 14 percent had an unfavorable impression. Thirty-two percent had heard of Shea but had no opinion of him. A third of Utahns said they had never heard of Shea.

The newspaper/TV poll results are close to those of a survey Shea himself conducted several weeks ago. In his own poll, conducted by a national pollster, Hatch led Shea, 60 percent to 34 percent.

Jones found Shea does slightly better among registered voters - Hatch leads 63 percent to 28 percent. Among those with a high interest in the election, Hatch leads 68 percent to 30 percent. Among those who said they are very likely to vote this November, Hatch leads 64 percent to 27 percent, Jones found.

This early in an election year the most significant poll number may not be Hatch's 36-point lead over Shea in the Jones' survey, but Hatch's "unfavorable" rating.

In years past, Hatch's unfavorable rating has crept into the high 30s; in his first term even higher. The higher the "unfavorable" ratings - what political analysts call a candidate's "negatives" - the more encouragement his opponents have. For it is unlikely the candidate can turn unfavorables into votes on election day - it's rare people will vote for a candidate, no matter how much they like his party or politics, if they don't like him personally.

Hatch's 24 percent unfavorable rating is not bad. Shea clearly has to drive that number up if he hopes to unseat Hatch.

One way - but not the only way - to do that is by personal comparisons. And a good way to show the differences between the two men is through a debate. Shea has challenged Hatch to 10 debates between June and November. So far, Hatch has remained silent on the challenge.

This leads, naturally, to the debate over debates.

Shea has enlisted Dave Jones, state Democratic Party chairman, who has asked GOP chairman Bruce Hough to help set up a debate schedule for the Senate contest.

In 1982, in Hatch's first re-election campaign, he faced then-Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson. Wilson challenged Hatch to a number of debates, and the two ended up with about 10 debates across the state. Hatch went on to win the race handily. So one may think Hatch doesn't fear debates.

But 1994 is different. Hatch has served 18 years in office and asks for 24 years. Only two other senators from Utah have ever served 24 years, and polls show that Utahns not only favor term limits for U.S. congressmen but overwhelmingly favor limits under 18 years. Shea and Utah Democratic leaders clearly hope to make Hatch's longevity a major issue in the race, and Hatch may not be eager to have 10 debates with Shea, a trial attorney who prides himself on his debating skills, with such an issue hanging over his head.



Deseret News/KSL poll

If the election for U.S. Senate were held today, for whom would you vote?





Poll conducted May 31 and June 1, 1994. Margin of error +/-4% on interviews of 603 adults. Conducted by Dan Jones & Associates. Copyright 1994 Deseret News. Dan Jones & Associates, an independent organization founded in 1980, polls for the Deseret News and KSL. Its clients also include other organizations and some political candidates.