The United Utah Party’s Eric Eliason will join his Republican and Democratic opponents on stage for the Utah Debate Commission’s 1st Congressional District debate Oct. 17.

A poll by the commission found Eliason had the support of 6.6 percent of the district’s voters, within the 4 percentage-point margin of error for the commission’s cutoff point of 10 percentage points for election candidates to qualify. Incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, was supported by 51 percent of voters, with Democrat Lee Castillo showing the support of 15.8 percent of voters, according to the commission’s poll.

"It is our hope that these debates will foster conversations and help you decide which candidates will be invested with the great responsibility and privilege of leading Utah and this country forward,” commission co-chairmen Scott Howell and Thomas Wright said in a prepared statement.

Eliason said in a statement that his inclusion as a third-party candidate is the result of voters putting country before party and their desire for common-sense policies.

“Voters are ready for solutions,” he said, “and I am excited for the opportunity to participate in a debate where vital topics can be discussed in a public forum.”

The commission will host debates for each of Utah’s four congressional races, and the U.S. Senate race to replace outgoing Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. In each of the remaining debates, only the Republican and Democratic candidates met the threshold of 10 percent voter support.

The poll, by Lighthouse Research, was conducted between Aug. 11 and Aug. 27. It included 600 registered voters in each of Utah’s congressional districts.

Utah’s 4th District race remains the state’s most competitive, according to the poll. The debate commission found incumbent Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, leading Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat, by 9.2 percentage points.

That is a larger margin of support than in most recent polls — which had shown Love ahead by 5 to 6 points. McAdams had claimed recently that his internal polling showed that he had closed the gap to just 2 percentage points, although Love’s campaign said its polling showed no such narrowing.

Love’s pollster, Quin Monson, a partner in Y2 Analytics, said, “I’m pleased to see that it shows Mia up by about 10 points. I think that’s a reflection of the positive way she is viewed by 4th District voters in what I think is a difficult election context for Republicans nationally.”

But because the commission’s poll initially did not release many details about its questions — such as whether demographics ensure that it was representative [the commission says it took steps to ensure that] — Monson said, “It’s very difficult to evaluate with a lot of confidence.”

However, Monson said the new poll “is not inconsistent with out own internal polling.”

He said Love’s polling has been far different than the 2 point spread claimed by McAdams.

Monson called McAdams' claims “a fundraising ploy. A pollster writes a memo for a campaign like that so they can shop it around Washington to raise money, making a claim that the race is close.” But he said such findings may result from the way questions are asked, using questions about issue stands to nudge respondents in a desired direction.

Meanwhile, McAdams’ campaign manager, Andrew Roberts, said in a written statement, “Our polls, and most polls, show this race [statistically] tied. We’re working hard and getting a great response to Ben’s candidacy.”

He added, “Utahns like his track record of working with both parties to get things done on issues they care about. We take nothing for granted and will be going after every single vote in the coming weeks.”

Eliason’s inclusion in the 1st District debate marks the second time that the nascent United Utah Party has qualified under the Utah Debate Commission’s rules. Last year, UUP candidate Jim Bennett narrowly qualified to join Democrat Kathie Allen and now-Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, at a 3rd Congressional District debate after the debate commission ran a second poll to determine voter support levels.

“Getting in once is remarkable, but getting in twice establishes a pattern,” said Richard Davis, United Utah Party chairman. “Eric’s success here demonstrates that the United Utah Party is here to stay and will be a powerful force in Utah politics for years to come.”

State records show that Eliason has raised significantly more campaign funds than the $6,272 reported by Castillo, the Democrat in the race. In July, the United Utah Party candidate had roughly $200,000 in the bank, mostly from his own personal funds, compared with more than $560,000 for Bishop and just $734 for Castillo.

Eliason’s campaign has spent nearly $38,000, according to the most recent campaign disclosure, some of it on ads that ask voters to “Release the Bishop” after the Republican incumbent’s 16 years in the U.S. House. The message is a reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which male members in good standing act as volunteer lay clergy and are subsequently “released” after a period of service.

1ST DISTRICT
Qualified for debate
Rob Bishop (Republican) 51.0%
Lee Castillo (Democrat) 15.8%
Eric Eliason (United Utah Party ) 6.6%
Did not qualify for debate
Adam Davis (Green Party) 2.0%
2ND DISTRICT
Qualified for debate
Chris Stewart (Republican) 49.0%
Shireen Ghorbani (Democrat) 26.8%
Did not qualify for debate
Jeffrey Whipple (Libertarian) 5.2%
3RD DISTRICT
Qualified for debate
John Curtis (Republican) 51.8%
James Singer (Democrat) 20.0%
Did not qualify for debate
Gregory Duerden (Independent) 4.4%
Timothy Zeidner (United Utah Party) 2.2%
4TH DISTRICT
Mia Love (Republican) 47.5%
Ben McAdams (Democrat) 38.3%
U.S. SENATE
Qualified for debate
Mitt Romney (Republican) 58.6%
Jenny Wilson (Democrat) 18.6%
Did not qualify for debate
Craig Bowden (Libertarian) 3.4%
Reed McCandless (Independent) 2.7%
Tim Aalders (Constitution) 1.9%

The Tribune will update this story.


DEBATE SCHEDULE
Sept. 17: 2nd District candidates at Dixie State University, Eccles Fine Arts Center.
Oct. 9: Senate candidates at Southern Utah University, America First Events Center.
Oct. 15: 4th District candidates at Salt Lake Community College, Karen Gail Miller Conference Center in Sandy.
Oct. 17: 1st District candidates at Utah State University, Caine Performance Hall
Oct. 23: 3rd District candidates at Utah Valley University, Sorensen Student Center Grande Ballroom
Tickets will be available online at utahdebatecommission.org