Sen. Mike Lee might face a tough race for the GOP nomination in 2016 from Josh Romney while Jim Matheson is the clear choice among Democrats for their nomination.
A new UtahPolicy.com survey finds Utahns slightly favor Lee over Romney for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination next year while a majority pick Matheson on the Democratic side.
Among Republicans, Lee's lead over Romney widens slightly (49-36%). The only other possible candidate named, former Utah GOP Chair Thomas Wright, trails far behind. 5% of Utahns and just 1% of Republicans say Wright should be the GOP nominee.
On the Democratic side, Jim Matheson was the clear choice with 54% saying they would like to see the former Representative as the nominee in 2016. About a quarter (27%) pick Doug Owens, who lost his bid to replace Matheson in Congress to Mia Love last year. 15% of Democrats say they want Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams as the nominee.
Independent voters slightly prefer Romney to Lee on the Republican side (30-29%), while a majority of them are behind Matheson (54%).
Given that the election is more than 18 months away, these numbers are likely just a reflection of name recognition at this point. The only candidate who has declared at this point is Lee. Matheson is working for a lobbying firm in Washington and joined the board of Sallie Mae. Owens is top of mind for Democratic voters because of his close race against Mia Love last year. Ben McAdams is the current Salt Lake County Mayor. Josh Romney is likely benefitting from his famous surname while Wright is a relative unknown to many Utahns outside of the Republican party.
Under the Count My Vote compromise passed by lawmakers in 2014, candidates can reach the primary ballot either through the caucus/convention system or by gathering signatures. If the primary election is open to all voters, which was one part of the compromise, the GOP race between Romney and Lee could be a tight one. However, if that part is struck down in court, and parties are allowed to restrict primary voters to registered party members, the gap between Lee and Romney gets bigger.
This survey also points out the huge amount of work ahead of Thomas Wright if he's serious about launching a bid for Senate. He will need to do more to increase his name recognition in the coming months because most Utahns simply don't know who he is.
Additionally, the results highlight just how shallow the Democratic bench is in Utah. Matheson is talked about as a possible Senate candidate as well as a challenger to Gov. Gary Herbert in 2016. He can only run for one. Owens may be a candidate for Senate, or he might challenge Mia Love again in 2016. McAdams is almost certain to run for another term as Salt Lake County Mayor. After that, the cupboard for Democrats is very bare.
The survey was conducted for UtahPolicy.com by Dan Jones and Associates from March 30 to April 7, 2015. 601 registered Utah voters were contacted via telephone and online methods. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.0%.