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Huntsman would beat Hatch in a Senate showdown, new poll finds

First Published      Last Updated Jan 26 2017 10:38 am

Eighth term » Nearly 8 of 10 voters oppose another run for the longtime senator; Huntsman’s bid gets overwhelming support.

Washington • Nearly eight out of 10 Utahns say Sen. Orrin Hatch shouldn't run for an eighth term and that if the GOP primary were held now, a solid majority would pick former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman over Hatch, a new poll shows.

While just more than half of Utah voters approve of Hatch's job performance, the poll by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics shows the state isn't ready to support the senator should he reverse a promise in his last campaign and seek re-election.

Some 78 percent opposed another bid by Hatch, with 58 percent of them saying he should "definitely not" run.

"I think he's lost the pulse of the people. I really do," said Kiersten Nebeker, a Republican from Eagle Mountain who has voted for Hatch in multiple elections but now says it's time for him to retire. "I think he's kind of out of touch with what we want."

Hatch had said during his 2012 election bid that it would be his last run for office, but later walked that back saying he may seek another term if he's close to passing a reform of the U.S. tax code. Those close to Hatch, 82, say he isn't sure whether he will run but is weighing the possibility.

Several Utahns have been rumored to be looking at running for the Senate seat with or without Hatch in the race, including World Trade Center Utah's Derek Miller, the Sutherland Institute's Boyd Matheson and Huntsman, who has moved back to Utah after stints as U.S. ambassador to China and a failed presidential run.

Asked whether they would support Hatch or Huntsman if the 2018 Republican primary were held now, some 62 percent of voters picked Huntsman and 21 percent chose Hatch.

Even among Republicans, Huntsman comes out on top. Of those voters surveyed who identified themselves as Republicans, 49 percent backed Huntsman while 35 percent went for Hatch. The Democratic split is completely lopsided, with 88 percent opting for Huntsman and 2 percent for Hatch.

Huntsman demurred when asked about the poll results.

"Regardless of poll numbers and 2018 politics, we should all be grateful for Senator Hatch's service to our state and country," he said in an email.

A majority of Utahns (51 percent) approve of the job Hatch is doing, while 47 percent disapprove, the poll showed. But the high number of Utahns who oppose another term is a record.

"That's the highest I've ever had in the years that I've done the research," says longtime pollster Dan Jones who conducted the survey of 605 registered voters and has worked in the past — but not currently — for Hatch's campaigns. The poll, in the field Jan. 9-16, had a margin of error of 3.98 percent.

Jones says that Utahns may not see how much Hatch's seniority has helped the state but it may not matter to some who "are looking to send new people back to Washington."

That said, Jones added, Hatch has consistently outperformed polls.

"He is a tough one to measure," Jones said. "As a campaigner, he's the hardest worker I've ever seen. [But] it'll be difficult if he decides to run."

Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, warned it's far too early to count Hatch out if he decides to seek re-election, although Huntsman would be formidable if he jumped in.

"Hatch has proven himself to be a very tough campaigner but Huntsman was an extremely popular governor and this poll shows that he remains well liked in the state and would be a significant contender if he decides to run," Perry said.

"While people appreciate the service [Hatch] has given, they are weary of career politicians no matter who they are."

Hatch may not have decided whether he'll seek an eighth term, but his supporters have been pressing him to run in newspaper op-eds and in news stories. His office provided quotes from fellow senators and Utah business owners about Hatch's importance in the Senate.

"He is arguably the most effective legislator in the nation, having sponsored more bills that have become law than any member of Congress," Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of companies, wrote in The Tribune earlier this month. "And he shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. If anything, Hatch is in his prime."

Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank, said much the same thing. "Senator Hatch is in a unique position to have a significant influence on important legislation over the next two years. In fact, I would say that Senator Hatch is at the peak of his influence and ability to advance Utah's values."

Hatch's office says he is not looking at polls and is focused on doing his job.

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