Nearly two-thirds of Utahns want former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman to run for the U.S. Senate next year, a new UtahPolicy.com poll shows.
Huntsman has indicated interest in the race. But he has also agreed to serve as President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Russia, although Huntsman has told the national media he doesn’t see that job keeping him out of the 2018 Utah contest.
UtahPolicy.com pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds in the new survey that 65 percent of Utahns “strongly” or “somewhat” favor Huntsman running for the U.S. Senate in 2018.
Twenty-eight percent say he shouldn’t run.
And 9 percent don’t know.
It has also been rumored that Huntsman could run not as a Republican, but as an independent who would caucus with Senate Republicans should he win.
Jones finds Utahns split on that idea, 44 percent said Huntsman should run as a Republican, 38 percent said he should run as an independent, and 18 percent don’t know.
Running as an independent would advance Huntsman to the final November election without putting him through what could be a bitter GOP primary battle against other Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, should Hatch decide to run for an eighth term next year.
What Hatch will do is the great unknown.
In his 2012 re-election race Hatch promised he would retire after his seventh term, or at the end of 2018.
But he is clearly considering going back on the promise. Last month he told a national news outlet that he probably would run next year. But his congressional staff quickly walked that back, saying he had not yet decided.
As previously reported in UtahPolicy.com, a number of leading Utah Republicans are working to set up a “Hatch Foundation,” headquartered at a local university, that would give Hatch meaningful work should he chose not to run again.
But the senior senator has not yet announced what he will do – with his delaying tactic hamstringing any number of Utah Republicans who would run for his job.
The Salt Lake Tribune – now owned by Jon Huntsman Jr.’s younger brother, Paul – recently conducted a poll that showed 80 percent of Utahns don’t want Hatch to run again – clearly a disappointment to the 82-year-old senator.
The same survey showed Hatch would lose handily to Gov. Huntsman, should they face each other on the ballot.
But if Huntsman decides to stay in Russia, and Hatch decides to run again, he would have to be considered the favorite – even with his dismal poll numbers now.
In his new survey, Jones finds some interesting demographic breakouts:
More Democrats and political independents want Huntsman to run than do Republicans – although the differences aren’t large.
62 percent of Utah Republicans want Huntsman to run for the Senate next year.
But 75 percent of Democrats do.
And 68 percent of political independents agree.
Why would more non-Republicans want Huntsman to run than Republicans – members of his own party?
That’s because Huntsman is not much of a partisan Republican. He is co-chairman of the national “No Labels” political movement, advocating less partisanship and more cooperation in solving the nation’s problems.
Also, Huntsman has taken a number of stands on issues opposite of archconservatives – especially Huntsman’s support for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.
Huntsman actually came out in favor of same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it several years ago.
As you might expect, Utah Democrats not only really want Huntsman to run for the Senate, but want him to run as an independent – even if he would caucus with Republicans and add to their numbers in the Senate.
— 56 percent of Democrats say Huntsman should run as an independent, but only 24 percent of Republicans say that and only 45 percent of independents themselves want Huntsman to run a non-partisan race.
Huntsman is backed even more by Democrats and independents than he is by archconservatives, Jones finds:
— Only 46 percent of those who self-identified as “very conservative” politically want Huntsman to run next year.
— While 67 percent of “somewhat” conservatives want him to run for the Senate.
— 71 percent of “moderates” want him to run.
— 76 percent of “somewhat” liberals say he should run.
— And 74 percent of the “very liberal” want him in the race.
Huntsman comes from a line of blue-blood Mormons. His grandfather is the late LDS Apostle David B. Haight, a member of the church’s governing 15 men.
But Jones finds the least support for Huntsman’s Senate run among the “very active” Mormons.
— 57 percent of active LDS say Huntsman should run next year.
That compares to 85 percent of “somewhat” active Mormons; 58 percent of no-long-active Mormons, 76 percent of Catholics, 69 percent of Protestants, and 69 percent of folks who said they belong to some other religion.
Interestingly enough, 74 percent (three out of four) Utahns who said they believe in no religion want Huntsman to run next year.
Finally, Jones finds that the more one is educated – high school through associate degrees to four-year degrees to graduate degrees – the more one wants Huntsman to run for the U.S. Senate.
An impressive 72 percent of those who hold post-college degrees, like PhDs, lawyers, doctors and CPAs want Huntsman to run for the Senate.
The numbers found among the different political, religious, and education subgroups show that Huntsman is more favored by moderate Utahns, more educated Utahns and by non-active Mormons.
Still, all these new Jones numbers, combined with the Salt Lake Tribune poll on Hatch vs. Huntsman, show that if the former governor wants to run for a Utah U.S. Senate seat, 2018 is the time.
If Huntsman decides to stay ambassador to Russia and sits out the 2018 race, who knows if there will ever be a time such as next year for him to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Jones polled 844 adults from March 22-29. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.37 percent.