Democrat Scott Matheson Jr. may be inching toward Jon Huntsman Jr. in the Utah governor's race, a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll shows.
But the race is not a dead heat as Matheson's camp claimed last week, pollster Dan Jones & Associates found.
The new survey by Jones, who has polled in Utah for 30 years, shows that among all registered voters the Republican Huntsman leads Democrat Matheson 49-40 percent. Only 8 percent said they were undecided, with fewer than 1 percent favoring Personal Choice Party candidate Ken Larsen or some other unnamed candidate, Jones found.
In a survey for the newspaper and TV station taken a month ago, Jones found Matheson had closed to within 10 percentage points.
So there is not much change in the new survey, which was conducted Sept. 28 through Oct. 4. In the new poll, Jones surveyed 929 registered voters statewide. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percent.
Last week, Matheson released a poll taken for his campaign by a Washington, D.C., pollster that showed both men had 42-percent support, a result questioned by the Huntsman campaign.
In any case, the new Jones survey for the newspaper and TV station shows that with four weeks until Election Day, Matheson is within striking distance of Huntsman.
Jones said most Democratic candidates in Salt Lake County are moving up against their Republican opponents.
"There is definitely slippage by the Republicans in the county," he said.
Some of that may be the political and legal problems of Salt Lake County GOP Mayor Nancy Workman bleeding over into other races, Jones said.
In Salt Lake County — which makes up about 40 percent of Utah's population — Matheson actually leads Huntsman, 50-40 percent, said Jones.
In his 2000 re-election victory, former GOP Gov. Mike Leavitt lost Salt Lake County to his Democratic challenger, Bill Orton.
Matheson is getting 16 percent of the Republican vote statewide, Jones found. Jones' telephone interviewers report that in talking with those Republicans who are not picking their party's nominee, anger over the fate of current Gov. Olene Walker — who succeeded Leavitt when the latter resigned to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency — plays a part.
"It's partly those disenchanted Republicans who felt Walker (a Republican) was wrongly denied the opportunity to come out of the (state Republican) convention," Jones said.
Scott Matheson's younger brother, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, is also showing strong in Salt Lake County this year, said Jones.
The popularity of "Jim Matheson seems to be helping Scott Matheson," said Jones, who teaches political science and polling at the University of Utah.
Rep. Matheson's 2nd District includes the eastern part of Salt Lake County, but also a number of counties in eastern and southeastern Utah. And in the 2nd District, Scott Matheson ties Huntsman, 45-45 percent, found Jones.
Still, Scott Matheson has some work to do among voters in the 2nd District, where Jim Matheson is doing well. Jones found 26 percent of voters who favor Jim Matheson are turning around and picking Huntsman over Scott Matheson.
As competitive as Scott Matheson is in Salt Lake County and in the 2nd District, Huntsman's strength statewide is holding up, especially among some important demographic groups.
For example, Jones found that among those who said they were "very interested" in the 2004 governor's race — and thus likely to vote Nov. 2 — Huntsman leads Matheson 51-38 percent.