SALT LAKE CITY — A new poll released Wednesday gives GOP Gov. Gary Herbert a 21-point lead over his Democratic challenger, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
But the full impact of the continuing controversy over Herbert's campaign contributions and state contracts likely wasn't measured by the survey for the Utah Priorities Project, which includes the Deseret News and KSL-TV.
Questions were first raised last Thursday about whether giving to the governor led to the award of a record roads contract. Monday, news surfaced that the state paid $13 million to one of the unsuccessful bidders.
The poll, however, was conducted Sept. 7 through Monday. Dan Jones & Associates surveyed 600 active voters statewide and the poll has a 4 percent margin of error.
"Some of these negative things have received media attention in just the last few days, so they're going to take time to incubate," pollster Randy Shumway said. "I think some people will blame Gov. Herbert, but most won't."
Shumway, the owner of Dan Jones and Associates, which also does polling for Herbert, predicted the effect of the controversy will be short-lived.
"My suspicion here is this is a story that's going to hurt Gov. Herbert for a few days, but ultimately it's not going to affect the outcome of the election," Shumway said.
Herbert's campaign spokesman, Don Olsen, said Corroon already has been attacking the governor "for weeks and weeks and weeks" and the poll results show voters have not responded.
"The only thing that's controversial out there is the governor's opponent's false and salacious charges," Olsen said. "I think people are just going to reject that."
Herbert's campaign has started airing a TV ad featuring Lt. Gov. Greg Bell saying, "For the Corroon campaign to make personal attacks on our governor is a disservice to the people of Utah."
Corroon, though, said he believes he'll benefit.
"I think the recent revelations that have taken place about the contracts and the $13 million payoff to the bidder who apparently should have won should really have an effect on the polls in my favor," he said.
Corroon is already airing the first negative television commercials of the campaign, detailing instances where Herbert's contributors received contracts and incentives from the state, including a $1.7 billion contract to rebuild I-15 though Utah County.
"I'm attacking Gary Herbert's policy position. I'm not going after him personally," Corroon said.
He said the momentum of the campaign will shift as voters see he supports limiting campaign contributions and Herbert doesn't.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said negative ads can weaken support for a candidate, even in Utah.
A small dip in support for Herbert would drop him below 50 percent.
"That will be a bad sign for them," Burbank said. "That's an indication those controversies are indeed eroding some support there."
Herbert's numbers should be higher for an incumbent Republican in Utah, Burbank said, especially in a year when the GOP is expected to win big nationally.
"Fifty-two percent is enough to win, but it's not what you would expect," he said.
Both Herbert and Corroon have made gains with voters since the previous Deseret News/KSL-TV poll on the race, taken last April. Then, Herbert had the support of 45 percent of those surveyed compared with 25 percent for Corroon.
The latest poll found 52 percent of voters who have participated in at least one of the two most recent elections would vote for Herbert if the election were held today. Thirty-one percent said Corroon was their choice, and 13 percent remain undecided.
The Utah Priorities Project is an effort to identify key issues in November's special election for the remaining two years of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s term. Participants in the project are the Deseret News, KSL, the Utah Foundation and the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.