SALT LAKE CITY — Just over a third of voters in Utah’s 4th Congressional District say they’d give the state’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, a second term in office — but slightly fewer are ready to vote for a Republican, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll.

The new poll also found that more than two-thirds of those likely to vote in the June 30 GOP primary election don’t have a preference among the seven Republicans currently in the race, a field that will be winnowed down Saturday by delegates to the party’s state convention that is being held virtually because of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Three Republican congressional candidates have already qualified for the primary ballot by gathering voter signatures — former KSL Newsradio host Jay Mcfarland; nonprofit CEO Trent Christensen; and former NFL player Burgess Owens.

They are competing at convention with state Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan; former Utah GOP communications adviser Kathleen Anderson; nurse practitioner Chris Biesinger; and businesswoman Cindy Thompson for the support of delegates, who will advance up to two candidates to the ballot.

Nearly half of voters, 47%, said they approve of the job McAdams is doing in Washington, D.C., while 29% disapprove and 24% aren’t sure. But 36% said they are more likely to vote for McAdams in November, compared to 34% for the Republican nominee, 9% for another candidate and 22% who aren’t sure.

Voters polled for the Deseret News and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics were equally split when asked if McAdams should get another two-year term or if it’s time for someone new to hold the seat, with a third saying he should continue, 34% favoring someone new and a third unsure.

The poll was conducted April 19-24 by Scott Rasmussen, an independent pollster, of 1,000 registered voters in Utah’s 4th Congressional District and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The sample of likely GOP primary voters was smaller, 352, and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.

Among the likely GOP primary voters, 67% said if the election were held today, they aren’t sure which Republican they’d vote for among the seven currently in the race — 8% said Mcfarland; 6%, Owens; 6%, Anderson; 4% Christensen; 4%, Coleman; 3%, Biesinger and 2%, Thompson.

“I was surprised it was that high. I was not surprised it was high,” Rasmussen said of the number of undecided voters at this point in the race. “But there is a bigger story right now. I mean, the pandemic, the lockdown, the concerns that are going on are just taking all of the air out of the discussion.”

Still, the pollster said he expects the race to be competitive based on the other poll results.

The candidates opposing Rep. Ben McAdams in Utah’s 4th Congressional District are, from top left clockwise, Trent Christensen, Burgess Owens, Chris Biesinger, Cindy Thompson, Daniel Beckstrand, Kathleen Anderson, Kim Coleman and Jay Mcfarland. | PhotoJoiner composite photo, photos courtesy of Trent Christensen, Burgess Owens, Chris Biesinger, Cindy Thompson, Jay Mcfarland, Kim Coleman, Kathleen Anderson and Daniel Beckstrand

Rasmussen said he believes Utah’s 4th Congressional District will also serve as a bellwether for Republican success in reclaiming control of the House from Democrats, because if McAdams “hangs onto his seat, there’s virtually no chance of Republicans making significant gains in the House.”

McAdams had been viewed as one of the nation’s most vulnerable Democrats in Congress this election year after winning the seat held for two terms by Republican Mia Love by fewer than 700 votes in 2018. Love, now a CNN contributor, told the Deseret News the race has been “frozen” by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Even national rating outlets are giving McAdams the edge, with the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman moving the seat in late March from a toss-up in November to leaning Democratic, saying the pandemic stalled candidate recruitment and fundraising, largely benefiting Democratic incumbents.

Wasserman also described the GOP field in the Utah race as “a mess” even before he said McAdams got a boost from sympathetic national coverage of his recent battle with COVID-19 that included more than a week in the hospital.

“The race is wide open on the Republican side,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, since the effects of the stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the virus have kept many voters from focusing on what traditionally is one of the state’s most competitive races.

But Perry said that will change once the list of Republicans hoping to take on McAdams in November is narrowed at the state party convention to between three and five candidates, and campaigning gets underway for the primary election.

“People will have an opportunity to really start paying attention to who these candidates are. But when there are so many of them and people are worried about other things right now, it makes sense people that you have a lot of people who just don’t know,” he said. “They will know, and they will make up their minds.”

McAdams also faces a challenge from within his own party, from Daniel Beckstrand, a self-described progressive candidate. However, delegates to the state Democratic Party convention also being held virtually on Saturday are not expected to send McAdams to a primary.

Perry said McAdams’ approval rating is “pretty good for a Democrat in the state of Utah. It’s better than some of the Republicans who are leading us in Washington, D.C. For Ben McAdams, looking at (close to) a 50% approval rating, he has to feel pretty good about that.”

While a third of voters now may be saying they want a Republican representing them in Congress, Perry said that poll result shows just how competitive the GOP-leaning district is, and how key independent and moderate Republican voters are to a victory.

“It’s reflective of this district. When we have specific candidates emerge, that will change. It’s unlikely this race will be won by a huge margin in any event,” he said. “Right now, you’re talking party. When you get to this next step in this election cycle, it’s party plus person.”

Andrew Roberts, McAdams’ campaign manager, suggested the results are positive.

“Two-thirds of voters are open to giving the congressman a second term,” Roberts said.

“The 4th District sent Ben to Congress because they’re tired of party politics,” he said. “Utahns respect Ben because he is an independent voice who puts their interests first in Washington. He’ll continue that approach as Utah confronts the health and economic challenges from the coronavirus, which is what he’s focused on.”

Republicans in the race, however, saw the poll differently.

“Those type of polling results for a sitting incumbent are not good. I’m very sure with the right nominee coming through the Republican primary, this district will flip back,” Anderson said. She said she’s experienced firsthand the limited interest in the race, with some party delegates not even realizing McAdams is up for reelection.

Mcfarland credited name recognition from his years hosting a daily radio talk show for his coming out on top among the candidates in the poll, but said many voters are undecided because there are “so many good, qualified people in the race.”

Mcfarland and Christensen, who, along with Owens, are already on the primary ballot, said they expect Coleman to be added by delegates. If none of the candidates get at least 60% of the vote in the ranked-choice convention ballot, the top two advance even if they have already qualified through signature gathering.

Christensen said the high number of undecideds in the GOP race means voters haven’t “heard the message they want to hear yet.” He said McAdams tying with an unnamed Republican candidate in the poll shows voters are willing to listen.

“I’d be nervous if I was Ben McAdams,” he said.

Coleman said in a statement, “Going into the convention, I led the pack with the most money raised and the most support from elected Republican officials, locally and nationally. Coming out of convention, I expect to still be leading the pack. I look forward to the primary, and to beating the Democrat in the fall.”

Owens said “voters are concerned about staying healthy, getting back to work and keeping their businesses open. We’re looking forward to seeing those numbers go up as we get closer to getting back to meeting voters and seeing our grassroots amp back up again.”

Correction: A prior photo caption in this story stated that Daniel Beckstrand was one of eight GOP candidates running in the race.