Provo Mayor John Curtis takes a big lead in newest poll

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Provo Mayor John Curtis speaks to the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017.

Provo Mayor John Curtis bagged another big lead — by a commanding 27 point margin — in the newest poll for the special election to fill Utah’s vacant congressional seat.

The Republican candidate captured 46 percent in the Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics survey that comes as ballots arrive in mailboxes this week.

“It’s going to be very difficult for anyone to take the lead over him,” said pollster Dan Jones.

Democrat and first-time candidate Kathie Allen fetched 19 percent, in keeping with earlier surveys, and the new United Utah Party’s Jim Bennett inched up slightly to 9 percent. The results track with the makeup of the reliably red 3rd Congressional District where registered GOP voters outnumber Democrats nearly 6-to-1.

In addition to locking up the conservative and Republican vote, Curtis also picked up the most support of any candidate from both independents and moderates in the poll — a voter base that Jones suggests both Allen and Bennett would need to own to have a chance at winning on Nov. 7.

“This is great news and shows our message is resonating across the district,” the mayor responded.

Allen takes a small lead among Salt Lake County respondents, a Democratic-leaning area of the sprawling district, where she outpaces Curtis by 5 percentage points. Despite that edge, it’s a seat that the conservative Rep. Jason Chaffetz won handily for five terms before stepping down early on June 30.

The survey, Allen said, “doesn’t change anything for me.” The longtime physician intends to continue getting her message out on health care, targeting young voters, airing new TV commercials funded by her massive fundraising efforts and distancing herself from President Donald Trump.

“I just don’t know how much credence to put into polls when they’ve been obviously so wrong in the past,” Allen said, noting that early 2016 presidential election surveys predicted Democrat Hillary Clinton winning and she later lost.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Congressional candidate Kathie Allen meets with the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017.

In a previous Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted in mid-September, Curtis had collected 54 percent of the vote. Though the newest numbers might seem like a dip, it’s “natural attrition” and within the margin of error of 4.84 percentage points, Jones noted.

Allen credits it, in part, to Curtis’ posting and then removing two campaign ads on Facebook — one exhorting Congress to “build the wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border and the other calling to “stop sanctuary cities.”

“I think that he has certainly embraced the Trump agenda,” she said. The mayor, for his part, has maintained that he supports the president’s policies and ignores the “distractions.”

If there’s anything actually impacting Curtis’ polling, Jones believes it is Bennett’s candidacy.

The third-party contender “has taken a few votes away” from the Republican front-runner. It’s not enough yet, Jones added, to have any significant impact.

Bennett, who bills himself as an “honest broker” between the two major parties, picks up his biggest backing in the poll, conducted among 410 registered 3rd District voters, from unaffiliated individuals. He has 12 percent of that demographic while Curtis has 25 percent. Allen picked up 20 percent.

“The biggest challenge we face is that a lot of people don’t even recognize that the United Utah Party and my candidacy are options,” he said Tuesday.

His father, the late three-term Sen. Bob Bennett, collected less than 2 percent in his first primary poll and still won the election in 1992, his son recalls. Bennett sees hopes in that.

FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, Jim Bennett speaks to reporters during a news conference at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. Bennett, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, sued to get on the ballot with his new political party in the special election to fill the seat of outgoing U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Judge David Nuffer said in a hearing Friday, July 14, 2017, that he's not ready to rule on whether he'll order state officials to include Bennett and his United Utah Party on the November ballot but he intends to make a decision soon. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

“John Curtis is falling. Kathie Allen seems to be stuck at the same number in every poll. And the fact that I’m rising is very encouraging,” he said.

The five other independent and write-in candidates in the race collectively got 5 percent in the poll conducted from Oct. 9 to 16. Roughly 17 percent of respondents reported being undecided.

Curtis, Allen and Bennett will debate Wednesday night starting at 6 p.m. at Brigham Young University’s KBYU Studios.