If Democrat Doug Owens decides to take on Sen. Mike Lee next year for U.S. Senate, he's got a huge hill to climb.
A UtahPolicy.com survey finds, if the election were held today, Lee would best Owens by a 55-36% margin. 10% are undecided.
36% looks to be the high-water mark for Democrats in recent statewide elections. No Democratic candidate has broken that level of voter support in the last three elections. The closest was Sam Granato when he took on Lee in 2010. Lee won that contest 62-33%. Other statewide races during that timeframe featured similar results:
- In 2010, Republican Governor Gary Herbert beat Peter Corroon 64-32%.
- In 2012, Sen. Orrin Hatch defeated Democrat Scott Howell 65-30%
- In 2012 Gov. Herbert bested Peter Cooke 68-28%
- In 2012, John Swallow cruised to a win over Democrat Dee Smith 65-30% in the Attorney General's race.
- Last year, Attorney General Sean Reyes downed Charles Stormont 63-27%.
Owens is the flavor of the month in Democratic politics after he came within 4,000 votes of knocking off Mia Love in 2014, despite being outspent by more than 5-1. That close call has many Democrats hoping he will either make another run at Love or take on Lee. That hope is magnified since it's looking more and more likely that former Rep. Jim Matheson is going to sit out the 2016 cycle. Matheson was touted as a possible opponent for Lee after he stepped down from his Congressional seat.
To win, Democrats have to appeal to more than their base - reaching across the aisle to capture Republican and independent voters. That political calculus makes sense, given there are so few Democrats in heavily Republican Utah.
Our survey shows the numbers to reach that simply aren't there. 80% of Republican voters favor Lee. Naturally, Owens captures the majority of Democrats (85%). Independent voters are split in their support. 48% would back Owens while 37% are behind Lee. A Democratic candidate would need to win a much larger share of the independent vote to even have a chance at knocking off Lee next year.
Lee seems to have recovered his electoral stride after a couple of missteps during the first part of his first term. He helped to lead a government shutdown that cost Utah's tourism industry big bucks, which angered some prominent Utahns. His ties to the Tea Party often put him at odds with more establishment minded members of his party. Some Republicans have been actively working to find a challenger for Lee in 2016, but all have declined to take on the Senator.
Lee has also built up a sizeable war chest with more than $762,000 in cash on hand.
At this point, there are no prominent Republicans or Democrats who appear ready to face off with the Senator in 2016.
The survey was conducted May 4-12, 2015 by Dan Jones and Associates. 803 registered voters were contacted via telephone and online means. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.46%