Mia Love has a small lead over Ben McAdams in ‘exceptionally close race’ to represent Utah in Congress, new poll shows

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams announces his plans to run against two-term Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, for the state's 4th Congressional District, Wednesday October 18, 2017. (Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Fourth District Congresswoman Mia Love meets with Salt Lake Tribune's editorial board Tuesday August 30, 2016.

As Rep. Mia Love bids for a third term this year, she faces a well-known and well-liked Democrat while Republicans nationally are expected to perform poorly in the midterms. Her campaign won’t be easy.

A new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows Love, a Utah Republican, with a small 5-point edge over Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams — a slightly narrower lead than she had three months ago and just outside of the margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. That means the matchup could be a dead heat.

“This is going to be an exceptionally close race,” said Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute. “And I think it’s going to stay close to the very end.”

Political handicappers have already listed the race as a possible opportunity for Democrats to nab a seat typically considered safely Republican. That assessment is at least partially owing to the unpopularity of President Donald Trump.

While 48 percent of voters statewide approve of Trump’s job performance, just 42 percent do in the 4th Congressional District — and 56 percent disapprove. So neither Love nor McAdams, Perry said, will be successful by cuddling up to the president.

The latest poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, put the GOP congresswoman ahead of the mayor, 47 percent to 42 percent, with 11 percent undecided. Love earned more of the vote in both of her previous elections against Democrat Doug Owens (whom she beat in 2014 with a 5.1 point margin and in 2016 with a 12.5 point margin).

“The numbers don’t surprise us,” said Dave Hansen, Love’s campaign manager. “They’re basically what we expected. The campaign hasn’t started, but we feel comfortable with them.”

Ten months out from the election, Love certainly is the better known of the two candidates. In the survey, conducted from Jan. 15 to 22 among 400 registered voters in the 4th Congressional District, just 1 percent of respondents reported not having heard of her compared to 10 percent for McAdams, who has twice been elected to his position as county mayor and previously served as a state senator.

While both are viewed favorably by a majority of voters, fewer had a negative view of McAdams than Love. Seventeen percent reported a “somewhat” or “very” unfavorable opinion of him while 36 percent did for the congresswoman.

And McAdams has a much stronger hold on unaffiliated voters, a much larger group than registered Democrats in the state. The survey shows him collecting roughly half those votes while Love gets 24 percent (another 21 percent are undecided).

“The poll shows voters have serious doubts about my opponent’s track record, and I will continue to work hard to listen to Utahns and to earn the support of the voters in Utah’s 4th Congressional District,” McAdams said in a written statement.

Love declined to comment. Her communication coordinator Sasha Clark said, “We are confident we’ll see her win by a strong margin.”

The incumbent did beat McAdams in all four counties in the district — Juab, Sanpete, Utah and Salt Lake — which was created in 2011 and represented for one term by Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson.

She also won each subset of Mormon voters, including very active, somewhat active and not active, despite McAdams also being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s largely because most adherents of the faith identify as Republican, Perry said.

But McAdams has made a name for himself, too, in working to resolve homelessness in the state, and particularly after posing as a homeless person over a weekend, staying in the Salt Lake City shelter one night and on the streets another.

It will be a competitive matchup, Perry said, and “in Utah, it’s uncommon to have a race where the numbers are so close.”