Washington • A new poll shows that Rep. Jim Matheson is in a unique position to turn Utah's 2012 Senate race competitive in November.
Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm, found that Matheson was essentially running even with Sen. Orrin Hatch in a general election showdown, with Hatch up 45 percent to 44 percent. Matheson would have a 47 percent to 42 percent lead over Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, if Chaffetz successfully ousted Hatch in either a Republican convention or a primary.
"Taking a Senate seat in Utah will require a heroic effort from Democrats, but if there is a way, Matheson is it," said Dean Debnam, president of the North Carolina-based firm.
The poll was not commissioned by any campaign or political organization. The firm surveyed 732 Utah voters from July 8 to July 10, asking a wide range of questions from their support of interracial marriage to what they think of Sarah Palin.
The firm plans to release pieces of the information during the next few days.
But Tuesday's release was focused squarely on Utah's Senate race. The firm didn't survey how Hatch would stack up to Chaffetz in a primary, instead it focused on potential general election contests, highlighting Matheson, who has said he is considering a run for statewide office.
"It shows why it is a credible option," said Matheson, responding to the poll results. "It shows why everything is on the table."
The six-term congressman says he will make a decision later this year to run for re-election in the House or make a run at the Senate or the Governor's Mansion.
Beyond Matheson, the firm compared two other Democrats against Hatch and Chaffetz and the results won't please the Utah Democratic Party.
Former Utah Attorney General Jan Graham and Sam Granato, who was the Democratic nominee in 2010, would find themselves down 20 percentage points against either Hatch or Chaffetz.
Matheson had the highest favorability rating of anyone in the survey, with 59 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of him and only 28 percent rating him unfavorable. Chaffetz had a 43-to-34 percent favorability split. The firm didn't ask the same question about Hatch, instead asking respondents if they approve or disapprove of his job performance: 46 percent approve and 43 percent disapprove.
On the bright side for the six-term senator, Republicans still approve of him by a margin of 67 percent to 22 percent.
Half of the respondents identified themselves as Republicans while 22 percent said they were Democrats and 28 percent said they were independents. The firm reported its margin of error as 3.6 percent.
This is just the latest poll to highlight Hatch's electoral vulnerabilities and Matheson's competitiveness.
A KSL/Deseret News poll conducted in mid-June found Matheson tied with Hatch and down 1 point to Chaffetz. That poll had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.