This article was first published in the On the Trail 2024 newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox on Tuesday and Friday mornings here.

Good morning and welcome to On the Trail 2024, the Deseret News’ campaign newsletter. I’m Samuel Benson, Deseret’s national political correspondent.

Today, we’ll explore Donald Trump’s ongoing problems among Utahns and Latter-day Saints — including a brand-new lawsuit that attempts to keep him off the ballot in Utah. I also have a poll to share that suggests Trump isn’t the strongest Republican in a possible head-to-head with Biden.

But first, the latest from the Deseret News’ 2024 election coverage:

The Big Idea

Trump’s ‘Utah problem,’ Round 3

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Trump has struggled to maintain support in Utah. His Utah campaign director jumped ship. Many of his office-holding supporters — both state lawmakers and county chairs — began filing in behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Even Sen. Mike Lee, one of his strongest backers in Utah during his presidency, showed up at a DeSantis fundraiser. Trump’s indictments keep piling up, even as Utahns say “moral character” is what they want most in a leader. 

The saga’s latest chapter? A new lawsuit, filed Wednesday, attempts to bar Trump from appearing on the 2024 presidential ballot in Utah, arguing the 14th Amendment disqualifies him from office.

Similar lawsuits have cropped up in Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire and a handful of states. Each have a slim shot at success, as they rely on an interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s “insurrection clause” that would suggest Trump’s actions surrounding the 2020 election betrayed his oath to the Constitution.

That’s up to federal Judge Cecilia Romero. Until then, what’s left up to Utah voters is whether Trump is really their favorite to win the GOP nomination.

Trump maintains a 35- to 40-point lead in most national polls. In Utah, he is in the lead, but at eight percentage points it’s the worst showing in any state that voted for him in 2020. He currently sits at 27% among Utah Republicans, according to our latest polling; of the states that voted red in 2020 with available polling from the past three months, Trump’s next-lowest showing is in Iowa, where he polls in the low 40s.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said last month that he hopes voters “choose someone else,” noting he doesn’t think Trump “can win the presidency as the Republican nominee.”

“The polling just shows that his approval rating is so low right now that it would be very hard to change that,” Cox said.

Among Latter-day Saint voters, it’s even more messy. According to a new poll from the American Enterprise Institute, a majority of Latter-day Saints, express a negative view of Trump, with 51% saying they have a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable view of him. Twice as many Latter-day Saints view him very unfavorably (40%) as those who view him very favorably (19%).

“There is no reason to think that members of the LDS Church would be more supportive of Trump now or in 2024 than they have in the past,” Dr. David Campbell, the founding director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame, told me.

Read more about Trump’s Utah problem here.

Will Trump have a Latter-day Saint voter problem yet again?

Poll pulse

A new CNN poll, conducted by SSRS, has politicos buzzing: of all Republican candidates, Nikki Haley is best poised to beat Biden.

From my colleague Holly Richardson:

In a hypothetical matchup between Haley and Biden, Haley pulls in 49% of the vote, while Biden gets 43%. Against other candidates, Biden polls almost evenly. Against former President Donald Trump, the poll shows 46% for Biden and 47% for Trump. He is even with Gov. Ron DeSantis (47% each), and just slightly under former Vice President Mike Pence (46% Pence, 44% Biden), Sen. Tim Scott (46% Scott, 44% Biden), Vivek Ramaswamy (46% Biden, 45% Ramaswamy), and former Gov. Chris Christie (44% Christie, 42% Biden).

The CNN poll made waves for other reasons, too. Two-thirds of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents want their party to nominate someone other than Biden. But when asked if there’s someone in particular they’d like to run instead, 82% don’t offer a specific name — they say “just someone besides Joe Biden.” In second place were Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, at 3% each. (Vice President Kamala Harris garnered 1%.)

New poll reveals Biden’s true challenger: Nikki Haley

Ad of the week

Biden’s new minutelong TV spot champions his support for Ukraine and his visit to Kyiv in February. The new ad debuts on CBS’ “60 Minutes” this Sunday.

Support for Ukraine has divided presidential candidates, especially the Republicans. An ad campaign — called “Republicans for Ukraine” — launched ahead of the first GOP debate last month, challenging the position among some Republican front-runners that backing Ukraine is not in the U.S.’ interest.

The Republican presidential race’s next battleground: Ukraine

Weekend reads

  • An excerpt from Franklin Foer’s brand-new “The Last Politician,” chronicling the first two years of the Biden administration. This section provides an inside look at how Biden handled the withdrawal from Afghanistan: Inside the Biden White House as Kabul Fell (The Atlantic)
  • Former federal judge Thomas Griffith argues that Latter-day Saints should “support and defend the Constitution.” All well. But he argues that should go beyond “the rights protected by the Constitution and the structure of government it creates,” — we must also defend civility, compromise and unity, which were themes that shaped America’s founding document. Latter-day Saints have a distinct charge to uphold the Constitution (Deseret Magazine)
  • What’s better than a weekend read? A weekend listen: We Asked the 2024 Candidates to Pick the Songs That Stir Their Souls (Politico Magazine). I listened to Larry Elder’s playlist all the way to the George Will event in Ogden and back Wednesday. So good. A friend texted me this about Ramaswamy’s playlist: “He’s either trolling or has the music taste of a Provo teenager lol.” Can’t say I disagree.

Friday mailbag

Have a question you’d like me to answer in next Friday’s newsletter? Send it along to Let’s talk policy, polling, candidates ... anything election-related.

Today’s question: Will the “resurgence” of COVID-19 become a test for another election cycle?

First, some context — after a fairly normal summer, COVID-19-related hospitalizations have jumped around 16% over the past several days, just as new vaccines could be rolled out as early as next week.

“We’re living in a bit of a fantasy world where we’re pretending Covid is not relevant,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House coronavirus response coordinator during the Trump administration, told ABC last week.

It’s already starting to affect the candidates. First lady Jill Biden tested positive Monday, while President Biden has tested negative to date (as he gears up for a trip to India this weekend for the G20 Summit).

Will it affect the election? If the spike continues, yes — and it will probably diverge along party lines. DeSantis — who prides himself on keeping Florida businesses open throughout the pandemic — already called recent moves to encourage masking and preventing future spikes a “bogus attempt ... to expand government control.”

“People are lurching toward this insanity again,” DeSantis said in a press conference. “As we see these things being orchestrated ... there needs to be pushback.”

Many Democrats will likely promote vaccination and precaution (while Robert F. Kennedy Jr. likely continues his vaccine-skeptical tirades). DeSantis and Trump will continue to spar over who was more strict with shutdowns. On Wednesday alone, my inbox was filled with three blasts from the Trump 2024 campaign that accused DeSantis of praising Anthony Fauci and the vaccine rollout.

But there is a bigger issue than the COVID-19 culture wars: how might the old age of candidates affect their campaigns if this spike continues?

Biden is 80, Trump 77. If they face off in the general election — as most polls suggest, as of now — it would be the oldest presidential matchup in U.S. history.

“The older you are, the less cushion you have to fight diseases,” Sharon Brangman, chief of the geriatrics department at SUNY Upstate Medical Center in New York, told The Hill. “As we get older, that cushion gets thinner and thinner. So a small event can have a big impact as we get older.”

COVID-19 cases keep climbing. Should you get a booster shot?

Anything you’d like to see from our campaign coverage? Drop me a line:

See you on the trail.


Editor’s Note: The Deseret News is committed to covering issues of substance in the 2024 presidential race from its unique perspective and editorial values. Our team of political reporters will bring you in-depth coverage of the most relevant news and information to help you make an informed decision. Find our complete coverage of the election here.