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Rep. John Curtis has gigantic lead over Chris Herrod in 3rd District GOP race

Rep. John Curtis, left, and Chris Herrod shake hands at the start of Utah's Republican Primary debate for the Third Congressional District seat held Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at KBYU Studios on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Rep. John Curtis, left, and Chris Herrod shake hands at the start of Utah's Republican Primary debate for the Third Congressional District seat held Tuesday, May 29, 2018, at KBYU Studios on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Isaac Hale, The Daily Herald via Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Chris Herrod has a lot of ground to make up in the race for the Republican nomination in Utah's 3rd Congressional District with the primary election just three weeks away.

GOP Rep. John Curtis has a seemingly insurmountable lead in the latest UtahPolicy.com poll released Monday. The survey shows 65 percent of Republicans likely to vote in the June 26 primary favor Curtis, while only 18 percent support Herrod. Another 17 percent remain undecided as mail-in ballots go out this week.

"I have a real struggle believing that," said Herrod, a former state lawmaker from Provo. "Obviously, that would be disappointing if that were the case, but truly that's not the feedback we're getting from people."

Curtis, who now has six months in Congress under his belt, said the poll is further confirmation of what he's hearing at town hall meetings and on the street. He said his message of getting things done, accessibility and being in touch with Utahns is resonating.

"I think people are starting to learn my brand is doing things differently, looking at things from a different set of eyes. We've just barely started to show constituents how we do that, and we're finding out ourselves. We want to break some molds," he told the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Monday.

Republican delegates, who are typically more conservative than GOP voters, gave Herrod the nod over Curtis at the state convention last year, but Curtis gathered signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.

Curtis knocked out Herrod and Tanner Ainge, both conservative firebrands, in a special Republican primary election last August to replace former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The former Provo mayor then easily bested a Democratic opponent to win the seat last November.

This year, Curtis went from getting 9 percent of the delegate vote at the convention to 59 percent, which he numbers among his accomplishments since taking office. He fell 12 votes shy of ousting Herrod and avoiding a primary.

Barring an unforseen misstep, Curtis appears headed for his second primary win over Herrod in less than a year.

The Republican winner faces Democrat James Singer and two third-party candidates in November.

In the UtahPolicy.com poll, Curtis even leads Herrod 63 percent to 20 percent among "very conservative" Republican voters. Even if Herrod took all the undecided voters, and accounting for the survey's margin of error, he would still trail Curtis by nearly 25 percent.

Dan Jones & Associates queried 403 Republicans in the 3rd District from May 15 to 31. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Already campaigning on a shoestring budget, Herrod knows voters aren't likely to open their wallets to someone lagging so far behind in the polls down the homestretch.

"We'll see how this week goes with fundraising. This poll is not going to help with anything that way," Herrod said.

Much of the polling was done before a May 29 debate between Herrod and Curtis, where the two candidates sparred over their differences.

One of those differences is over what gun control measures are needed following the recent deadly school shootings in Florida and Texas.

Curtis said he opposes devices that make legal weapons illegal and that raising the age to legally buy a gun to 21 is a worthy discussion to have. But, he said, no one measure alone would solve the problem.

"This is far deeper than one solution," he said. "I'm taking a personal responsibility to step out from behind that Second Amendment shield and have frank discussions."

Herrod said it's fair to have conversation about whether gun-free zones work, though he doesn't believe they do. He opposes raising the age to purchase a gun.

"I think that's a slap in the face to our military men and women around world to carry a fully automatic weapon and can't come back and can't buy a .22," he said.