Provo Mayor John Curtis takes lead in poll for congressional race to replace Chaffetz

Democrat Allen says her campaign needs to work harder to get its message out.<br>

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Provo Mayor John Curtis celebrates during his election night party at the Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center Tuesday, August 15, 2017.

Provo Mayor John Curtis has captured the early and expected lead — by a sizable 30 point margin — in the first major poll during the off-cycle general election to replace former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

The Republican congressional hopeful fetched 50.17 percent while his Democratic opponent Kathie Allen, a first-time candidate and fundraising powerhouse, landed 19.82 percent.

“These results are great news,” said Curtis’ spokesman, Danny Laub. “It’s clear John’s hard work and message of getting things done for Utah are resonating across the district.”

Allen, a physician who lives in Cottonwood Heights, tweeted about the numbers, saying she’s ”feeling like we are going to have to work a lot harder to get our message [out] & frustrated with gerrymandering!” Allen also suggested that she could get more votes by targeting millennials at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. 

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Third congregational district candidate Dr. Kathie Allen speaks during the Utah State Democratic Party 2017 State Organizing Convention at Weber State University Shepard Union Saturday, June 17, 2017.

Her campaign released a statement, too, noting the two ”most important takeaways” from the poll are: ”1) that Curtis is a historically weak candidate for a Republican in this district ... and 2) there are enough undecided voters to determine the outcome of this election.”

The results from the Dan Jones & Associates survey, commissioned by Utah Policy and the Utah Debate Commission, track with the makeup of the 3rd Congressional District where registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats nearly 6-to-1. It’s a seat that the conservative Chaffetz won handily — by at least a 37 percentage-point margin each election — for five terms before stepping down early on June 30.

The poll, conducted from Aug. 30 to Sept. 9, also shows that United Utah’s Jim Bennett, son of the late Sen. Bob Bennett, was 0.43 percentage points shy of the 6.02 threshold set to participate in the Oct. 18 debate hosted by the Utah Debate Commission.

“It’s one thing to miss by a mile. It’s another thing to miss by inches,” the third-party candidate responded.

Only Curtis and Allen qualified for the event to be hosted at Brigham Young University. While Bennett said the results were disappointing, “it doesn’t really change my campaign strategy much.” He does, however, wonder if his late start in getting on the ballot (after a court battle) or launching his billboards just after the survey was conducted might have impacted the results.

“We’ve been having to run from behind from the outset,” he said, noting that he looks forward to other debates to come that will include more candidates.

Allen‘s campaign called on the commission to reconsider excluding Bennett: “In general, we feel that third parties are too often overlooked in American political discourse, and it's a shame that the Utah Debate Commission didn't take this opportunity to correct that negligence.”

David Magleby, a political science professor at BYU, called the poll ”fairly predictable.” 

“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “This is a predominantly Republican district.”

Though Allen ”has had very few negatives” since she launched her campaign in March, Magleby said she still ”hasn’t had nearly the visibility that the primary gave John Curtis.” The mayor, too, Magleby added, runs the third largest city in the state, meaning many voters recognize his name. 

Bennett, on the other hand, has been ”largely invisible” — even with a strong family connection to politics. ”By this point in September, the voters needed to know a lot more about which Bennett this is,” Magleby said. 

The five other independent and third-parties candidates in the Nov. 7 race — including Libertarian Joe Buchman — collectively got less than 5 percent in the poll. Nearly 18 percent of respondents reported being undecided.

The survey, conducted among 607 registered 3rd District voters, has a margin of error of 3.98 percentage points.