Starting out on his third gubernatorial election campaign, GOP Gov. Gary Herbert is looking good – his job approval ratings in a new UtahPolicy poll are very high.
The new Dan Jones & Associates survey – conducted Jan. 6-13 by speaking to real, live Utahns – finds that 77 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of the job Herbert is doing as governor.
That puts Herbert up with three previous Republican governors Jon Huntsman Jr., Olene Walker, and Mike Leavitt – who also got job approval ratings in the high 70s.
Only 18 percent of Utahns disapprove of the job Herbert is doing, and 5 percent didn’t know, found Jones.
Herbert seeks re-election this year, and should he win; he would be only the third governor ever to claim three elections for the top state job.
The late Democratic Gov. Cal Rampton won three terms back in the 1960s-1970s. He served 12 years.
Leavitt won three terms in the 1990s-2000s, but he resigned two-and-a-half years into his last term to join then-President George W. Bush’s administration.
Herbert, if he wins another four-year term, will have served just over 11 years in office.
Herbert was Huntsman’s lieutenant governor and stepped up to the top job in mid-2009 when Huntsman resigned to become ambassador to China.
Herbert won the 2010 governor’s race to serve out the last two years of Huntsman’s term.
Herbert then won a four-year term himself in 2012.
The governor is being challenged within the Republican Party by Jonathan Johnson, the chairman of Overstock.com.
There may also be two or more Democrats in the governor’s race.
Johnson, who can put considerable amounts of his own money into the GOP nomination race, is clearly trying to challenge Herbert from the right of the Utah Republican Party.
But Herbert is more conservative than Huntsman, Walker and Leavitt. And there’s not a lot of room over to the right edge of Utah’s majority party.
Jones’ recent polling bears that out.
In the latest survey, Herbert gets great job approval ratings from Republicans, even good ratings from those who say they are members of the government-hating Tea Party and those who said they are “very conservative” politically.
90 percent of those who told Jones they belong to the Republican Party approve of the job Herbert is doing, only 7 percent disapprove and 3 percent don’t know.
71 percent of those who say they are political independents approve of Herbert’s job performance, 25 percent disapprove and 4 percent don’t know.
Hey, even 58 percent of Democrats approve of Herbert, 37 percent disapprove and 6 percent don’t know.
Among those who say they are “very conservative” politically, 87 percent approve of Herbert, 11 percent disapprove and 3 percent don’t know.
Tea Partiers don’t like just about everyone in government. Jones finds that 79 percent of Tea Party-likers approve of Herbert, 13 percent disapprove and 7 percent don’t know.
The Utah GOP only allows registered Republican voters to cast ballots in their closed June primary.
An independent can register at the polls to be a Republican and get a GOP ballot.
Democrats, or other registered party members, can’t switch at the polls.
So the numbers Jones finds among Republicans and independents matter in a Herbert/Johnson primary match-up.
Herbert’s numbers are much better than job approvals of U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, both R-Utah (Their job approval poll story runs Friday in UtahPolicy.)
So, Herbert’s job approvals show Johnson has his work cut out for him.
Johnson has to raise Republican voters’ displeasure with Herbert – and put them in mind to deny Herbert another term as governor.
But only 7 percent of Utah Republicans disapprove of the job Herbert is doing; only 11 percent of “very conservative” Utahns disapprove; only 13 percent of Tea Partiers disapprove.
Those are not good numbers for Johnson.
Johnson made a move on Herbert’s right wing just two weeks ago when he (Johnson) announced that he would not be going the signature-gathering route as a candidate within the Utah Republican Party.
Johnson will only be going before state delegates in convention this spring.
Herbert is trying to get 28,000 signatures of registered Republican voters – thus ensuring he makes the June GOP primary ballot.
Herbert says he will also appear before state delegates. But if the provisions of SB54 are upheld in the courts this spring, then no matter how delegates vote on Herbert he will be on the GOP closed primary ballot.
If Johnson fails to get at least 40 percent of the delegate vote at the convention, his 2016 run is finished, and he’s out of the governor’s race.
It’s a clear gamble on Johnson’s part.
He’s counting that enough of the 4,000-or-so GOP delegates – to be picked in the March 22 Utah Republican caucus meetings – will be angry at Herbert bypassing a binding delegate vote in convention that they will reward Johnson with their votes.
Herbert eliminated all intra-party challengers in the 2012 state GOP convention and won his party’s gubernatorial nomination there.
If Johnson makes it to a primary, his ability to self-fund a primary campaign comes into play.
But Herbert has $1.4 million in cash now, and likely can raise considerably more for a primary race.
And Johnson has to convince nearly half of those 90 percent of Republicans who approve of the job Herbert is doing as governor not to give Herbert another four years in office.
Jones polled 845 adults from Jan. 1-14. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.37 percent. Respondents were contacted through live telephone calls and email. The telephone sample (both landline and cell phone) was randomly selected from a list of all registered voters in Utah. The online sample came from an opt-in internet panel.