Rep. Mia Love starts ahead of Mayor Ben McAdams in high-profile race for 2018 election, poll shows

Democrats entry into the race boosts the race to the most high profile congressional battle in Utah next year — and likely the most competitive.<br>

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams is starting from behind as he works to knock Republican Rep. Mia Love from her seat in Congress, according to a new poll.

Love is better known in the 4th Congressional District and has a slight advantage over McAdams among registered voters who responded to a survey by Dan Jones & Associates for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Both sides viewed the poll results in a positive light as 48 percent of registered voters said they’d vote for Love and 42 percent for McAdams if the election were held now in a race that got its start when McAdams announced his bid Wednesday.

“I’m overwhelmed and encouraged by the outpouring of support we’ve received since launching the campaign 24 hours ago,” McAdams said in a written statement. “Our effort will be to bring Utahns together around a positive and optimistic message about how we bring common sense solutions to Washington.”

McAdams, a Democrat, has twice been elected to his position as county mayor. He previously served as a state senator. For years political observers have speculated he’d make a run at higher office in a state with far more Republicans than Democrats.

Love, who twice beat Democrat Doug Owens in races to represent Utah’s newest congressional district, is better known in the district than McAdams, the poll shows. One percent of respondents hadn’t heard of Love, compared to 12 percent for McAdams.

Both candidates are viewed favorably by a majority of voters in the district, which includes portions of Salt Lake, Utah, Juab and Sanpete counties. Fifty-seven percent of voters viewed Love favorably, with 20 percent saying they had a “very favorable” view of her. Fifty-six percent of voters had favorable view of McAdams.

Fewer voters had a negative view of McAdams than Love. Fifteen percent had either a “somewhat” or “very” unfavorable view of McAdams, compared to 36 percent for Love. Eighteen percent of voters had no opinion of McAdams, compared to just 6 percent for Love.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams meets with the Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board at the paper's offices in Salt Lake City Monday September 19, 2016.

“In the last three to four years she’s had millions of dollars in attack ads [against her] in the last election and election before,” said Dave Hansen, Love’s adviser and campaign manager. “She’s still showing very strong and in a great position.”

Most of the district’s voters reside in Salt Lake County, where the poll shows the two deadlocked, with support from 45 percent of voters, with 10 percent undecided. Love beat McAdams in the other three counties, including by better than 2-1 in Utah County.

McAdams first declared his interest in the position in September, when he said voters had been encouraging him to run, and the race quickly became the most high-profile congressional race ahead the 2018 midterm election.

“Given his background, his unique background for a Democrat in Utah, I would have thought he would run statewide,” said Tim Chambless, an associate political science professor at the University of Utah. “Given that district, which much of it is Wasatch Front, I would see that a strong candidate, well-financed, could win.”

McAdams estimated it would take about $2.5 million to mount a strong campaign. He said he anticipates outside money will pour into the race, much of it on negative ad campaigns.

If that happens, Hansen said, it will be the first major test of McAdams against the kind of national-level campaigning that brings out heavy-hitting attacks from independent groups.

“Ben is known as the county mayor, so he has a high name ID,” Hansen said. “But he hasn’t had any negatives thrown at him in the two [mayoral] elections he’s run.”

The new poll included 402 registered voters Oct. 9-18, the day McAdams announced his candidacy. The margin of error is 4.89 percent, plus or minus.