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Poll: Trump up over Clinton in Utah, but lead is slipping as delegates launch new push to dump him

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally Saturday, June 18, 2016, in Phoenix.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally Saturday, June 18, 2016, in Phoenix.
Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Donald Trump, the controversial GOP presumptive presidential nominee, remains ahead of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton among Utah voters, 36 percent to 27 percent, according to a poll released Tuesday.

But his lead in Utah has shrunk since May, when the controversial billionaire businessman was up 13 points in a poll over the former secretary of state, senator and first lady, 43 percent to 30 percent.

The drop in support comes as a number of Utah delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month, led by the Eagle Forum's Gayle Ruzicka, have joined an effort by delegates nationwide to block Trump from being nominated.

"More and more people are becoming unhappy with Trump," Ruzicka said of the effort, headed up by Kendal Unruh, a Republican delegate from Colorado who told the Washington Post, "This literally is an 'anybody but Trump' movement."

The Free the Delegates organization wants a change in party rules, a "conscience clause" allowing delegates to vote their conscience rather than be bound to the primary and caucus election results that secured the nomination for Trump.

The effort got a boost Tuesday from a former contender for the GOP nomination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who said, "historically, not just this year, delegates are and should be able to vote the way they see fit," according to The Associated Press.

Ruzicka said the group has not come up with an alternative candidate to Trump, although she is hopeful they will back Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the big winner of the Utah Republican Party's presidential preference caucus vote in March.

Although Cruz is aware of the effort, "at this point he's not talking to anyone," Ruzicka said, noting that other candidates may well emerge. "Once those delegates are unbound, there may be people who show up who surprise us all."

One of Cruz's strongest supporters, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Lee's wife, Sharon, are the Utah representatives on the RNC rules committee. Just last week, former Utah Congresswoman Enid Mickelsen was named the chairwoman of the committee.

Ruzicka said at least a half-dozen of Utah's 40 delegates have joined the anti-Trump effort so far and many more are considering it. All but five of Utah's delegates signed a pledge to support Cruz throughout any voting at the convention.

Without the rule change, Trump is expected to be formally nominated at the convention in the first round of delegate voting. The rules committee is set to meet just days before the July 18 start of the four-day convention.

Ruzicka, a longtime activist who has attended six national GOP conventions, said if Republicans want to take back the White House, they need a candidate not seen as insulting women and minorities, hurting the nation's international standing.

She said neither Trump nor Clinton is popular in Utah because voters in the reliably Republican state are "looking for somebody with integrity to vote for. They're looking for somebody who represents their principles."

The latest poll, conducted June 8-17 by Dan Jones & Associates of 614 registered Utah voters statewide, found that nearly 40 percent of respondents wouldn't vote for either Trump or Clinton.

Eighteen percent said they'd choose an unnamed "other" candidate, and 8 percent didn't know who they'd vote for, while 10 percent picked Libertarian Gary Johnson, and 2 percent supported the Green Party's Jill Stein.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.95 percent.

Pollster Dan Jones said he expects the race to continue to fluctuate "because there's still a lot of undecided. People are still waiting to see if they'll stop Trump at the convention."

Jones said he doesn't believe Trump will be taken out at the convention, but noted the effort sends a strong message to the far right wing of the GOP that could provoke tea party and other conservative voters.

Trump can stay on top in Utah, Jones said, "because the Republicans really don't like Hillary" and are especially concerned about a Democrat filling vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank also said there's little chance Trump can be stopped at the convention. Burbank predicted Trump will win Utah, but the real question will be how many Republicans turn out to vote.

"That has serious implications for Republicans," Burbank said. "I don't think Republicans are going to get wiped out, or anything like that." But many GOP voters in Utah could end up sitting out the November election, he said.

Trump lagged behind other GOP candidates in Utah polls throughout the primary process and ended up in third place in the Utah GOP's caucus vote, trailing far behind Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

A Deseret News/KSL poll at that time showed Utah would vote for a Democrat for president for the first time since 1964. Jones has said Utahns are turned off by Trump's style as well as his statements against Muslims and other minorities.

Before the vote, one of Utah's most popular politicians, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, slammed Trump as a fraud and a phony in a widely covered speech at the University of Utah.

Romney said at an annual retreat of his big-money donors held recently in Deer Valley that while he won't campaign against Trump, he will continue to criticize his "destructive" comments.

Utah GOP Chairman James Evans — who has said the party has a "Plan T for Trump" in the works to ensure that voters unhappy with the party's presumptive presidential nominee turn out in November — met with the candidate in Las Vegas over the weekend.

Evans said Trump recognizes he "has work to do" with Utah voters and is committed to campaigning in Utah at some point after the national convention. Trump made an appearance in Salt Lake City just before the March caucus vote.


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