Race Between Love and Owens Could Come Down to the Wire

Doug Owens has a chance to upset Mia Love in Utah’s 4th Congressional District – if he can quickly gain greater support among key demographic groups, a new UtahPolicy poll shows.

In fact, the 4th District race could come down-to-the-wire.

Dan Jones & Associates conducted the poll the end of last week of 400 likely voters; margin of error plus or minus 4.9 percent.

Jones’ findings differ greatly from polls released Thursday by both the Love and Owens’ camps – showing the real value of an independent, nonpartisan survey.

Jones finds Republican Love still leads Democratic Owens 49 percent to 40 percent, a 9- percentage point margin.

That is down from a 12-point lead in the last Jones poll for UtahPolicy, taken about six weeks ago.

But there are only four weeks left in the campaign.

And Owens has to do several things, the new results indicate:

— He must raise more money and get on TV and radio more often.

— He must clearly take out after Love – as several of his new TV ads are doing.

— And he has to – just HAS to – get more political independents, and even a few more Republicans, to vote for him.

In the meantime, it appears from the new poll that Love can no longer run her positive, “please-feel-good-about-me,” campaign.

In short, she has to start driving up Owens’ “negatives.”

Owens, the oldest son of the late U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens, has low unfavorable ratings compared to Love – who got so much negative advertising against her two years ago that some hard feelings are still out there.

Overall, 54 percent of 4th District likely voters have a favorable opinion of Love, an African-American woman, Mormon mother and wife, and former mayor of Saratoga Springs in northern Utah County.

But 41 percent of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Love. That’s a high negative by traditional Utah candidate standards.

Even 15 percent of GOP voters said they have an unfavorable opinion of Love.

Worse for Love, 52 percent of political independents have an unfavorable opinion of her.



Independents are the key demographic in the 4th Congressional District – which is about 47 percent Republican, 16 percent Democratic and 31 percent independent.

Owens needs to get independents out to the polls. And he needs more of them than he now has.

Jones finds that Owens leads among independents, 50-33 percent, over Love. That may look good.

But the current 4th District incumbent, Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, historically would win his close election campaigns with 60 percent of the independent vote.

Matheson would also get around 20 percent of the GOP vote in his old 2nd Congressional District – most of those cross-party-line votes coming along Salt Lake County’s eastside suburbs.

According to Jones, Owens only has 12 percent of the GOP vote now in the 4th District – which takes in the western side of Salt Lake and Utah counties, and small parts of Iron and Sanpete counties.

Matheson barely held on to his seat two years ago, when Love fell around 780 votes short of taking the 12-year incumbent out. Matheson chose not to run for re-election this year and is retiring from the U.S. House.

However, in Love’s own poll, Matheson still is well liked in the 4th District.

And Owens needs to capitalize on that sentiment if he hopes to beat Love at the finish line.

Jones found that only 9 percent of likely 4th District voters are still undecided.

The three other candidates in the race each get 1 percent of the vote: Ken Aalders, Independent American Party; Collin Simonsen, Constitution Party; and Jim Vein, Libertarian.

Being 9 percentage points down to Love, with 9 percent undecided, means Owens has to win all, or mostly all, of the undecided votes.

That’s a tough hill to climb with only four weeks in the campaign.

But it is doable, if Owens can turn some independents and get his supporters out to vote.

Another challenge is that vote-by-mail ballots are already going out in many counties – Salt Lake County mail-in ballots hit homes last week.

So for those early voters, decisions may have already been made.

Tuesday night is the 4th District Utah Debate Commission Love/Owens match-up, on local TV and radio stations (6 p.m.).

Clearly this is critical for Owens, a private practice attorney, Mormon father and husband.

Not so much so for Love. She still has 9 percentage points to play with.

In the pair’s only other debate, a May meeting before the Utah Taxpayers Association, Owens came out swinging and Love was playing defense much of the time.

There may be only one other debate for Love, who has little incentive to meet Owens again; and that could happen if she did poorly Tuesday night and her campaign manager, Dave Hansen, thinks she needs another shot at Owens.

While Love is still fighting negative feelings left over from her 2012 campaign, Utahns either like Owens a lot, like him some, or don’t know him. (Owens has a 50-23 favorable/unfavorable rating.)

Jones found that 26 percent of likely voters either have not heard of Owens, or have heard of him but have no opinion, one way or the other.

In the critical political independent demographic, 55 percent have a favorable opinion, only 19 percent unfavorable, and 26 percent – one out of four – either recognizes his name but have no opinion, or have never head of him, Jones found.

That means Love has a fertile field in which to plant concerns and second-guesses about Owens – if she decides to start running negative ads against him.

Watch for several things to happen rather quickly:

— Love will get some well-liked, well-respected local politicians to come out in TV ads for her, like GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who has a high approval rating, and former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Utah’s favorite adoptive son.

Romney was in Utah last week stumping and fund raising for Love, and you can bet Hansen is making (made?) a TV ad out of that visit.

— Owens will get Matheson on the stump, with joint appearances, TV and radio ads, and the whole enchilada.

— Love will try to paint Owens with the national Democratic brush, saying we don’t need another Nancy Pelosi-backing Democrat in the U.S. House.

— Owens is already painting Love as a partisan demagogue, someone who won’t listen to reason, but only vote the archconservative line of national Republicans.

Finally, Jones found that men plan on voting for Love, 51-38 percent.

But women favor Love only 46-42 percent.

No doubt that is one reason Hansen has been running TV ads showing the motherly, soft side of Love.

In any case, expect the gloves to come off in the 4th District race these final four weeks.

Things are getting interesting.