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Poll: 4-way tie among GOP presidential candidates in Utah

First Published      Last Updated Jan 17 2016 07:00 am

Cruz, Trump, Carson and Rubio in a statistical tie; Clinton leads Sanders by 10 percentage points.

A new poll shows that four GOP presidential candidates are in a statistical tie in Utah — which has Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans working on a backdoor way to nominate the man he says local voters really want: Mitt Romney.

On the Democratic side of the race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in a surprisingly close race among Utahns — with Clinton leading Sanders by a 50-40 margin.

That's according to a statewide poll by The Salt Lake Tribune and Hinckley Institute of Politics, conducted by SurveyUSA, that interviewed 989 registered voters between Jan. 6-13.

Four-way tie • The poll found that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, billionaire Donald Trump, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and surgeon Ben Carson are essentially in a tie among those Utahns who plan to vote in the Republican presidential caucuses on March 22.

Cruz has 18 percent support; Trump, 17 percent; and Rubio and Carson each have 15 percent, with other candidates lagging far behind. But that question had a margin of error of 4.9 percent, creating a statistical tie.

"People are really uncertain about these candidates. It is not at all clear what they are getting with any of them," said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "Utahns have not united behind any one candidate yet."

Evans, the Utah GOP chairman, said like Republicans nationally, those in Utah are split because the many candidates "all have qualities that appeal to different parts of our Republican base."

He said, "Rubio is inspirational. With Trump, it's outrage and anger. With Carson, it's the 'what's possible' with his life story. And Cruz appeals to the constitutional, libertarian aspect of our party."

Evans said there is "not one candidate who embodies all of these aspects to an acceptable degree." But he says he can think of one who does, and who should be drafted: "I think the candidate that embodies all of that is Mitt Romney," the party's 2012 nominee.

Mitt's back door? • While presidential caucuses and primaries begin next month without Romney on the ballot in any state, Evans said he has been working with other GOP leaders nationally on a back-door plan that could again bring Romney into the contest.

If no one wins on the first ballot at the national convention — which is possible if several candidates split wins throughout the primary season — rules allow additional candidates to be nominated, if supported by at least eight states.

"So if eight states come together and say we want to nominate Mitt Romney, then his name will go in for consideration. A lot of states are talking," Evans said. "I have support from seven states. I've got one more to go."

But the Utah chairman concedes a lot could happen before then, and it is possible that party support will coalesce around one candidate during the primary season. Also, Romney has repeatedly said he is not running nor seeking the nomination.

Trumped • Perry said Trump is the one candidate among front-runners who appears to be losing steam in Utah, and he is so disliked by many party faithful that some may choose to sit out the general election if he is the nominee.

One of those is Amy Clements of Spanish Fork, who was surveyed in the poll and favored Cruz "because he is a conservative through and through."

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A polling partnership

The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics have formed a partnership to commission polls during this important election year. This is the first story in what will be a series in coming days from a poll conducted statewide from Jan. 6-13. The survey explored election preferences but also looked at issues of public policy deemed significant heading into the 2016 legislative session. The Tribune and Hinckley anticipate additional polls in coming months, along with, perhaps, public forums focusing on some of the topics addressed in the surveys.