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Jim Dabakis is front-runner in Salt Lake Chamber poll on mayoral race

FILE - State Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, speaks about the Utah Inland Port Authority during a caucus meeting at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.
FILE - State Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, speaks about the Utah Inland Port Authority during a caucus meeting at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 18, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A new poll released by the Salt Lake Chamber on Wednesday again shows former State Sen. Jim Dabakis as the front-runner in the Salt Lake City mayor's race heading into the primary.

But Dabakis himself says his internal polls are showing different numbers indicating a much tighter race. And one candidate, David Garbett, even called the poll a "piece of crap" because of its small sample size and wide margin of error — as well as accused the chamber of trying to influence the election by releasing the poll less than two weeks ahead of the Aug. 13 primary.

The poll shows Dabakis has support from 30% of poll respondents, state Sen. Luz Escamilla with 15%, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall with 12%, David Ibarra with 8% and both Garbett and Stan Penfold with 5%. The poll did not include Richard Goldberger nor Rainer Huck, who were considerd long shots.

However, 25% told pollsters they don't know who they would vote for.

Political pundits and even the pollsters caution voters from reading too much into the poll, which was released as part of a statewide poll regarding Utah's 2020 governor's race. The poll on the mayor's race, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, was of 149 likely Salt Lake City voters between June 11 and July 1 with a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points.

That wide margin error leaves the second-place slot in the mayor's race essentially locked in a statistical tie, said Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics.

"With this many candidates, an 8 (point) margin of error leaves a lot of room for these other candidates and no one should write themselves out of this race based on these numbers today," Perry said.

Rather, the "most significant number" in the poll, Perry said, is the 25% of undecided voters.

"That 25% is enough to move any of these candidates into a No. 2 position," Perry said.

Dabakis, after he reviewed the chamber's poll results, told the Deseret News it "doesn't sync with our internal polls," which he said are showing a "much closer" race.

"It's still close between all the No. 2s, but it doesn't have me that far ahead," Dabakis said. "I think I'm ahead, but it's by a little, not a lot."

Escamilla also expressed some cautious optimism from Wednesday's poll results, saying it's shows what other polls — public or not — have showed her tracking in the second-place slot.

"That shows consistency for us, and that's a good thing for us in what we're trying to do right now and get out of the primary," Escamilla said.

Ibarra — the candidate with so far the largest cash flow and expenditures according to the most recent campaign finance reports — wasn't deterred by the chamber's poll. Rather, Ibarra expressed optimism that he was in a "statistical tie" for second place.

"I absolutely believe we're in second place solidly today," Ibarra said.

Garbett, former executive director of the Pioneer Park Coalition and an environmental attorney, had stronger words for the poll.

"This statistical methodology makes it basically a piece of crap," Garbett said.

Garbett questioned why the chamber would release the poll, completed nearly a month ago, less than two weeks to go until the primary.

"Frankly I think it's the Salt Lake Chamber trying to drive the outcome of the election," he said.

The chamber released the poll results after a quarterly member meeting Wednesday and later posted it to the chamber's website.

Chamber spokeswoman Marisa Bomis referred questions about the poll's methodology to the pollsters but issued a statement in response to Garbett's comment.

"The poll, including the questions, methodology and results, was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, one of the most respected opinion research firms in the nation, independent of the Salt Lake Chamber," Bomis said.

Blake Moore, a principal at Cicero Group, where Dan Jones & Associates is a subsidiary, said the Salt Lake City mayoral poll was a "tack-on to a statewide poll" with the purpose of giving a "directional sense of what the mayor's race looks like.

Moore said the margin of error is "too high to be able to make any determinations on any level of specificity" with regards to the race.