Herbert, Cox and Reyes Enjoying High Approval Numbers

Utah State Capitol 06Utah GOP Gov. Gary Herbert continues to be well liked in the state, a new Utah Policy poll shows.

In his latest survey, pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds that 72 percent of Utahns “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of the job Herbert is doing as governor.

Getting over 70 percent approval is a good number for any elected official, says Jones, who has polled in Utah for 40 years.

Only 24 percent disapprove of Herbert’s job performance, and 5 percent don’t know.

Herbert is running for re-election in 2016.

He arose from the lieutenant governor post when then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. resigned in 2009 to become ambassador to China.

Herbert then won in 2010 to serve out the remaining two years of Huntsman’s term, won re-election to his own four-year term in 2012 and now faces his third run for governor in 2016.

Should Herbert win next year, he would be only the third Utah governor ever to win three races for the top state post – behind former Govs. Mike Leavitt and Cal Rampton.

In his new survey, Jones also finds that Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox has a 52 percent job approval rating.

And GOP Attorney General Sean Reyes has a 63 percent approval rating.

Cox has never been on the LG ballot – he was appointed Herbert’s second in command when former LG Greg Bell resigned several years ago.

A significant 39 percent said they had no opinion of the job Cox is doing.

Reyes was appointed AG in late 2013 when then-AG John Swallow resigned in disgrace and won in 2014 to serve out the final two years of Swallow’s term.

Twenty-two percent of Utahns had no opinion of the job Reyes is doing, Jones found.

In the new poll, Herbert has rebounded a bit in the eyes of those who said they are “very conservative” politically.

And that is not good news for Overstock.com top executive Jonathan Johnson, who has already announced he’s challenge Herbert in 2016 for the Republican Party’s gubernatorial nomination.

Johnson is clearly challenging Herbert from the party’s right – which is already a difficult approach since Herbert is proven more conservative than either Republicans Huntsman or Leavitt before him.

In an August survey, Jones found that 79 percent of “very conservative” Utahns liked the job Herbert was doing; 18 percent disapproved of the governor’s performance.

While 18 percent is not a great deal to build upon, it was still something for Johnson.

But Jones finds in his latest survey that 88 percent of the “very conservative” like the job Herbert is now doing; only 11 percent disapprove.

Since the last poll, Herbert has taken out after Planned Parenthood of Utah – trying to deny the group (which does not perform abortions) federal grants that are passed through state agencies.

PP of Utah sued Herbert, and a court has temporarily stopped the governor from cutting Planned Parenthood funds.

Conservatives may like Herbert’s action there.

However, after the new Jones poll was conducted, Herbert announced that he would not try to stop Syrian refugees from being relocated by the federal government in Utah – while all other Republican governors in the nation have said they don’t want the Syrians in their states.

That may harm Herbert with conservatives – if not for the fact that leaders of the LDS Church quickly announced that their faith has, and will continue, to help refugees throughout the world.

In any case, Johnson would undoubtedly prefer that Herbert be seen as less-than-conservative by the Utah Republican Party’s right wing.

But Herbert’s conservative support is growing, not falling, the new Jones poll shows.

Among Republican Utahns:

— 86 percent approve of the job Herbert is doing, 8 percent disapprove and 5 percent don’t know.

— 61 percent approve of the job Cox is doing as lieutenant governor, 4 percent disapprove and 35 percent don’t know.

— 73 percent approve of the job Reyes is doing, 6 percent disapprove and 21 percent don’t know.

Cox is clearly a young up-and-comer in Utah GOP politics (even though he is balding and may look a little older than he really is).

As lieutenant governor, Cox oversees the Utah Election Office – which is in an ongoing dispute with state GOP leaders over interpretations and implementation of SB54 – the new candidate nomination law much hated by hard-core Republican party leaders.

Cox recently sent a letter to state party officers saying while he is a true Republican, and really likes the delegate/convention process, as LG it’s his sworn job to uphold state election law – and he’ll do that with SB54.

That said, Cox apparently is worrying about how hard-core Republicans will view his pro-SB54 stands.

In his letter, he apologizes at some length for language his top election officer, Mark Thomas, used with the media, when Thomas said state Republican Party officials were seeing “crazy stuff” in their interpretation of some SB54 provisions.

So far, right-wing Republicans aren’t holding it all against Cox; 60 percent of the “very conservative” folks approve of the job Cox is doing, only 4 percent disapprove, and 36 percent don’t have an opinion of Cox.

That could change as the SB54 fight continues, however.

Johnson clearly recognizes the uphill battle he has with Herbert. Johnson has challenged Herbert to several pre-2016 debates – which the governor refuses to engage.

So, in an odd twist, Johnson this month is debating former Utah Democratic Party chairman, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, around the state, on various issues.

Dabakis, a well-known news hound (he has purchased a half-hour “political issues” show Sunday mornings on ABC Channel 4), is always ready to engage in political discussions, although he says he is not running for governor next year.