SALT LAKE CITY — Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love has overcome a double-digit deficit to overtake Rep. Jim Matheson in Utah's hotly contested 4th Congressional District, the latest Deseret News/KSL poll shows.
Love, a Republican, now leads the six-term Democratic congressman 49 percent to 43 percent. Dan Jones & Associates found that among registered voters, 36 percent definitely favor Love, while 13 percent lean her way. The poll showed 31 percent definitely voting for Matheson and 12 percent leaning toward him. Eight percent are undecided.
Jones surveyed 414 residents in the 4th District from Sept. 26 to Sept. 29. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.
"She is really coming on," pollster Dan Jones said.
A Deseret News/KSL poll that Jones conducted in June had Matheson leading Love 53 percent to 38 percent.
The pollster pointed to several reasons for the 21-point swing including Love's emerging name recognition, celebrity, national GOP money and new congressional district boundaries that favor Republicans.
Love's "star quality" is paying off but so is her party affiliation, Jones said.
"If those who drew the districts want Utah to remain as a one-party state, they've done a darn good job of it because all four congressional districts are extremely Republican," he said. "The districts have been gerrymandered for the Republican Party, it appears to me."
The GOP-controlled Utah Legislature redrew the state's congressional lines last fall per the 2010 census, which gave the state a fourth district. After Matheson's 2nd District was divided four ways, he jumped to the new 4th District.
Love said she is "humbled and honored" by the poll results and the numbers show her campaign is gaining momentum.
"It means we're moving in the right direction and our message is getting out," she said.
Jones said Love's lead isn't insurmountable, "but Matheson has got to get going." He needs to get Democrats and independents to the polls, he said.
"I say, game on," Matheson said Monday.
He said he has expected a close race all along, "so I always treat it like every vote counts. I'm going to be real aggressive right up to 8 o'clock on Election Day when the polls close."
In the next five weeks, the campaign will focus more on who the candidates are, Matheson said, adding the differences between he and Love will be more clear.
He doubts that being drawn into a heavily Republican district is much of a factor in the poll results because the same thing happened 10 years ago when lawmakers drew new boundaries. He was behind in the polls then and came back to win.
"I always consider myself an underdog," he said.
Matheson does much better in the Jones survey with voters who identified themselves as politically moderate, winning that category 69 percent to 22 percent.
Salt Lake County voters, who make up the majority of the 4th District electorate, favor Matheson 47 percent to 45 percent. But Jones said he has to push that to as much as 60 percent to offset strong GOP support in Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties.
"If he wins, it will be close," Jones said. "It really comes down to who gets out the vote."
Getting out the vote doesn't appear to be a problem for Republicans because of Mitt Romney, though if he drops in the polls after the presidential debates, people might not vote, Jones said.
"That's going to hurt the rest of the ticket," he said.
Jones conducted the poll as the candidates clashed in three televised debates in four nights last week. Love and Matheson will meet again Tuesday morning on KSL Radio's Doug Wright Show at 9 a.m.
"Mr. Matheson came across as more knowledgeable, but she takes the issues of Mitt Romney," Jones said of Love.
Love appears to be sharpening her message to voters with just five weeks before the election, taking aim at Matheson's mantra that he puts Utah first and reinforcing her allegiance to the Romney-Ryan ticket.
"We thought we knew Jim Matheson, but the truth is Jim Matheson doesn't know us," Love said Monday at her first news conference since announcing her congressional bid in January.
Matheson has a "terrible" track record and has not been a check and balance on President Barack Obama on critical issues, particular when it comes to federal spending.
"Jim says he's an independent voice. The problem is that on big issues, issues that are important to Utah voters, Jim has either been silent, not led or been on the sidelines until the decision has been made and often has been on the wrong side of Utah," she said.
Matheson said his voting record reflects fiscal responsibility and taking on the federal deficit.
He listed several GOP-supported measures including Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz's cut, cap and balance bill, the "super committee" created to find $1.5 trillion in cuts over 10 years and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's line-item veto legislation.
Matheson said he has "wonderful" relationship with Utah voters to advance the interest of the state.
"When it comes to voting in the 4th Congressional race, the people are going to be choosing between me and my opponent. There's a presidential race on the ballot and then there's a congressional race on the ballot. I am not Barack Obama and my opponent is not Mitt Romney," Matheson said.
According to the Jones poll, voters have a slightly higher favorable impression of Matheson than they do of Love, but that is balanced out by his higher unfavorable impression as well.
Love does better with both women, 51 percent to 41 percent, and men, 48 percent to 46 percent, the poll shows.