The Republican Party primary election for U.S. Senate doesn’t appear to be shaping up as much of a contest so far.
One candidate, incumbent Sen. Mike Lee, is running away with the field, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.
If the election were held today, 67% of Republican voters who plan to vote in the June primary would choose Lee, who is seeking a third term. Former state legislator Becky Edwards was the closest challenger at 19%. Evan Barlow, a Weber State University supply chain management professor who has done little campaigning, was next at 6%, the survey shows.
In the Dan Jones & Associates poll of 804 Utah registered voters conducted March 9-21, 60% said they are currently registered or plan to register with the Republican Party to vote in the June 28 primary election. That group, totaling 484 respondents, was then asked which candidate among the seven Republicans who filed to run in the race would get their vote.
The margin of error for the entire survey is plus or minus 3.45 percentage points. It is 4.45 percentage points among those planning to vote in in the GOP primary.
There has been upward movement for some in the field, particularly Edwards, but Lee remains the top candidate to win the GOP nomination, said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.
“Mike Lee has retained very strong support with these conservative Republicans. They’re the ones who say that they’re going to show up (to vote) and they tend to show up, and that’s why his numbers continue to stay high for this Republican primary,” Perry said. “They are committed to him and they are very active.”
Though Lee has an approval rating in the low 40s among Utahns in general, that Republican support, particularly from state delegates who tend to be more conservative, carries him.
In the poll, 80% of respondents who identified themselves as “very conservative” and 74% of those who are “somewhat conservative” said they would vote for Lee. Edwards, a moderate Republican, does better than Lee among voters who described themselves as somewhat or very liberal.
Matt Lusty, Lee’s campaign spokesman, said the Deseret News/Hinckley poll numbers track closely with what the campaign is seeing and that undecided voters are moving to Lee.
“Sen. Lee’s campaign, which has always been about constitutionally limited government, fighting policies that cause high inflation, and highlighting failing Democratic policies, is resonating with Utahns,” he said.
Edwards and community and business leader Ally Isom have been the most active campaigners, both in traveling the state and on social media, in the effort to unseat Lee. Isom only received 4% of the vote in the poll. Both say Lee is vulnerable and that his stances aren’t meeting the needs of everyday Utahns.
“This poll confirms what we already know, Becky continues to be the leading Republican challenger against the two-term sitting incumbent,” said Chelsea Robarge Fife, Edwards’ campaign spokeswoman.
“These numbers reflect what we’re seeing every day on the campaign trail. Utahns are hungry for more productive, proactive and inclusive leadership.”
Isom said Election Day is the only poll that matters.
“I am here to seriously discuss the future of our nation and state, not speculate on snapshots with suspect timing. After walking in close to 100 Utah communities, what I do know is that everyday Utahns are tired of politicians,” she said.
“We want real leaders and we want the truth. We want our country back. I also know that more than 39,000 of those everyday Utahns have signed our petition, and hundreds of them are volunteering, and we will be on the primary ballot.”
The candidates who ultimately appear on the primary ballot in the Senate race will be solidified in the next month.
Lee, Edwards and Isom have a clear path no matter what happens at the state GOP nominating convention on April 23. All three are nearing verification of the 28,000 voter signatures needed to secure a spot on the ballot under Utah’s dual candidate nomination system.
Among the other four — Loy Brunson, Jeremy Friedbaum, Laird Hamblin and Barlow — only Hamblin declared his intent with the state elections office to collect voter signatures. He has yet to turn in any names. The only way to the primary ballot for the others is to win the party’s nomination at the convention, which is highly unlikely.
Barlow said he was surprised to get 6% in the poll. He switched from independent to the Republican Party at the end of January. While he has campaigned at meet-and-greets and spoken at county GOP conventions, Barlow said he is running an “ultra” low-budget, mostly self-funded campaign.
Lee has not faced a primary election since his first campaign in 2010, narrowly winning that race before easily besting the Democrat in the general election.
The GOP primary winner in U.S. Senate races in Utah historically has gone on to win the general election. But this year, independent Evan McMullin will be waiting on the ballot for the Republican nominee. Utah has not elected a Democratic senator since 1970. The state has never elected a woman to the Senate.
Although Democrat Kael Weston, a former State Department official, is campaigning for the Senate seat, the Utah Democratic Party is being pressured to not field a candidate in hopes of giving McMullin a better shot to defeat Lee should he be the Republican nominee.