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GOP tide running high in most top Utah races

Rep. Jim Matheson may be Utah Democrats' sole hope, a final poll before Election Day conducted for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV shows.

Matheson holds a 10-percentage-point lead over Republican John Swallow among 2nd Congressional District registered voters, pollster Dan Jones & Associates found in a survey finished Thursday night.

Republicans hold leads — in some cases, commanding leads — in all the other major races, the survey showed.

Rep. Matheson's older brother, Scott Matheson Jr., is 16 percentage points behind Republican Jon Huntsman Jr. in the governor's race, the survey says, a lead that would be difficult for the Democrat to make up.

Even Republican Ellis Ivory, certified to the ballot Thursday by the Utah Supreme Court and in the Salt Lake County mayor's race for only a month, is now ahead of Democrat Peter Corroon, the new poll shows. Ivory, whose name will be on Tuesday's ballot after flip-flop court decisions, leads Corroon 43-37 percent, with independent Merrill Cook getting just 8 percent support.

In short, the final poll hints Nov. 2 will likely be, as have so many others in recent history, a good day for Utah Republicans.

Jones, who has polled in Utah for 30 years, warns the pre-Election Day survey is not a prediction of what will happen Tuesday but is an accurate snapshot of Utah voters' preferences the week before the election.

Even with that caveat, President Bush can clearly count on five Electoral College votes from Utah. The president leads Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., by 45 percentage points, 69-24 percent.

Utahns traditionally turn out to the ballot boxes in presidential election years.

Jones, who also teaches political science at the University of Utah, predicts more than 70 percent of registered voters will go to the polls Tuesday. That's a good turnout, but most likely Tuesday's participation will fall below the 81 percent who voted in the 1992 election, a modern-day record.

2nd District

Rep. Matheson and Swallow have been mired in one of the most negative campaigns in recent Utah history. And negative campaigning can turn off voters, depressing turnout, political experts say.

The two-term incumbent Democrat, who leads Swallow 51-41 in the new poll, says he wants a big voter turnout Tuesday. He believes moderates and independents will help him more than they will help Swallow.

And Jones' new survey shows that Rep. Matheson is getting more than his fair share of those voters. The congressman gets 73 percent of independent voters; 83 percent of those who say they are political moderates.

But Rep. Matheson needs more than that to win in a 2nd District, which normally votes more than 60 percent Republican. Matheson needs Republican LDS voters, too.

And Jones found that among those polled, Rep. Matheson gets 21 percent of the Republican vote and 36 percent of the active LDS vote. "That's critical for him," said Jones.

In 2002, Swallow barely lost to Rep. Matheson, falling less than 1 percentage point short. Pundits said at the time Matheson had to carry the Salt Lake County portion of the 2nd District by 60 percent, which he did — but only barely.

The new poll shows that Rep. Matheson is getting 63 percent of the county vote.

"He needs that 60 percent again this year. And the survey shows he's barely there," said Jones, an independent pollster who conducted a poll for Swallow earlier this year.

Jones also asked how likely people were to vote Tuesday. Historically, those with a high interest in the races actually do vote on Election Day. Among those who said they were "very likely" to vote, Matheson still leads Swallow, 51-44 percent.

Jones surveyed 426 voters in the 2nd District race for a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.

Governor's race

In the governor's race, Jones said the 1,228 people he surveyed "knew both the Huntsman and Matheson names well, but they really didn't know many differences between (the stands of) the two men."

People recognized that both men said education and economic development were tops on their agenda but didn't always know which candidate placed which issue first.

"Because Utahns (when voting) are often two-to-one Republican, that gives Huntsman a decided edge," said Jones, who has also done polling for the Huntsman campaign this year. The survey statewide had a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Jones said because Huntsman had to go through a tough Republican convention and primary, he was likely out in the public more. "A number of people commented they had met Huntsman personally, and that usually helps."

Utahns elected their last Democratic governor in 1980, when the late Gov. Scott M. Matheson, father to the two Matheson candidates this year, won re-election.

But over those 24 years, 2nd District voters have elected Democratic congressmen six times. And just a month ago, Rep. Matheson held a 30-point lead over Swallow.

Swallow is closing on Rep. Matheson for several reasons, Jones believes.

First, it appears that anti-Matheson TV ads and mailers are having an impact.

Second, as Huntsman draws more Republicans to his governor race, those conservatives are also falling away from Rep. Matheson. The new poll shows that Rep. Matheson is getting 21 percent of the Republican vote in the 2nd District, while brother Scott is getting just 13 percent of the GOP vote statewide.

A September poll showed Jim Matheson with 30 percent of the GOP vote in the 2nd District.

More results

In other contests:

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, has a 43-point lead over Democrat Paul Van Dam. Van Dam won the Utah attorney general's race in 1988, but his candidacy this year has not caught on.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, holds a 43-point lead over Logan City Council chairman Steve Thompson, the Democrat in the race.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, has a 30-point lead over Democrat Beau Babka, a South Salt Lake police captain.

Current Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, a Republican, holds a 42-point lead over Democratic challenger Greg Skordas.

Amendment 3, which would change the Utah Constitution to ban same-sex marriages, is favored by 63 percent of Utahns, Jones found. Only a third oppose it.

Initiative 1, which would increase the statewide sales tax by 1/20th of 1 percent to raise money for open space preservation, is way ahead in Jones' survey. The proposal is ahead 58-35 percent.

And in Salt Lake County, reauthorization of the current zoos-arts-and-parks (ZAP) sales tax is very popular, with 72 percent for and only 22 percent against renewing the tax.

Exit polling

Finally, Jones will be conducting exit polls Tuesday night for KSL-TV. The surveys are used to help predict, after the polls close at 8 p.m., who may win various races and which ballot propositions may pass.

This election marks the first time that Utahns could cast early absentee ballots at their will, no longer having to certify that they will be out of their voting precincts Election Day.

Across the nation, more and more citizens are casting early ballots, leading to questions about the accuracy of Election Day exit polling.

Jones said, by and large, the political preferences of early voters are the same as Election Day voters. So early voting shouldn't have much impact on exit polling's accuracy.

However, in Salt Lake County, thousands of absentee ballots were cast while Ivory was only a write-in candidate, his name not then on the ballot itself. But any write-in ballots cast for Ivory early will be counted for him, county clerk officials say.

"Early voting is tough (on exit polling), when issues surface in the last three or four days before Election Day," said Jones. "Especially on initiatives and amendments. You really need 60 percent in (pre-election polls) to pass, because those who don't know much about initiatives vote no at the ballot box."