Utah Debate Commission will redo 3rd District poll that could let a third party candidate onto the stage

Group says the first poll deviated from its ‘prescribed approach.’ <br>

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) l-r candidates in the 3rd District primary, former state Rep. Chris Herrod, businessman Tanner Ainge and Provo Mayor John Curtis field questions during The Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics debate, July 28, 2017, at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo. The primary will be held Aug. 15.

The Utah Debate Commission will sponsor a second poll to determine whether any third-party hopefuls can join the Republican and Democratic candidates in a 3rd Congressional District debate, citing concerns with the first poll that it had announced would result in a two-person showdown.

The initial poll showed Republican John Curtis had a commanding lead in the race, at 50.17 percent, Democrat Kathie Allen picked up 19.82 percent and none of the remaining candidates met the debate-qualifying threshold.

Third-party hopeful Jim Bennett, candidate of the new United Utah Party and son of three-term U.S. Sen Bob Bennett, missed the cut by the thinnest of margins — .43 percent.

Christie Taylor, with the Utah Debate Commission, said the first poll “was not conducted according to the prescribed approach” and won’t be counted. A new one will be done to determine the lineup at the Oct. 18 debate at Brigham Young University.

Taylor attributed the do-over to a problem with the ordering of questions asked some 600 respondents in the Republican-dominated district.

“We just want to make sure all of the respondents answer the questions in the same order,” Taylor said.

The commission had recruited the news and opinion website Utahpolicy.com as a partner in sponsoring the original poll and its 3rd District questions were added to a statewide poll Utahpolicy already was preparing.

“The debate commission did not pay for it. We were doing it as a service to them — with the understanding that was their question,” LaVarr Webb, Utahpolicy publisher, said.

“The debate commission was fully aware” that the statewide poll would ask a whole series of questions and then standard “oversampling” would occur in the 3rd District to get to an acceptable margin of error on the debate-qualifying portion, Webb said.

“What happened is obviously between the Bennett campaign and the debate commission. And if they felt like they needed to do a poll with just the [3rd District] question, I don’t have a problem at all with that,” Webb said.

In the past, the commission had done its own polling and confined questions to the elections and candidates eligible for debates.

A second poll gives Bennett another chance to reach the stage. 

“I like my odds,” Bennett said. “Being on a debate stage with the Republican and the Democrat would legitimize our party and demonstrate that we are here to stay and we are real players in the Utah political scene.”

Bennett said he would now have more time to get his name out through advertising. He said he’d hardly gotten his ad campaign off the ground while the previous poll was being conducted.

The initial survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, was the first major poll in the general election race to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Curtis’s lead was expected and welcome news for his campaign.

“These results are great news,” his campaign manager said earlier this week. “It’s clear John’s hard work and message of getting things done for Utah are resonating across the district.”

Allen, a first-time candidate and physician from Cottonwood Heights, said at the time the results showed her campaign needed to work harder to get her message out. Unlike Curtis, she didn’t face a primary election to reach the ballot for the Nov. 7 election.

Her campaign said in response to Friday’s news that Allen hoped Bennett could be included in the debate.

“Jim Bennett is trying to break the labels of identity politics, and so are we,” Daniel Craig Friend, an Allen campaign spokesman, said. 

Dan Jones & Associates will conduct the new poll, which will survey 607 registered 3rd District voters.

Editor’s note: This story was updated from its original version to include the explanation and details provided by Utahpolicy.com.

— Dan Harrie contributed to this report.