GOP Gov. Gary Herbert is well liked going into his 2016 re-election campaign, and his likely intra-party challenger, Jonathan Johnson, has a clean slate to build upon.

Those are the results of the latest UtahPolicy poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates.

Johnson himself says his 2016 GOP gubernatorial candidacy is the worst kept secret in Utah politics.

Johnson has not yet announced, but he’s hired GOP campaign guru Dave Hansen and is traveling the state talking to any number of civic and political groups.

Jones finds that 69 percent of Utahns approve of the job Herbert is doing as governor.

 

Only 24 percent disapprove, and most of those are Democrats.

But, hey, even 41 percent of Democrats think Herbert is doing a good job as governor.

Meanwhile, readers of UtahPolicy may know Johnson is going to run, not many other Utahns have even heard his name.

Jones finds that 3 percent of all Utahns have a favorable opinion of Johnson, 3 percent have an unfavorable opinion, 9 percent have heard of Johnson but have no opinion.

And 81 percent of Utah voters have never even heard of Johnson.

 

For Johnson and Hansen that is good – no big negatives to deal with – but also a huge challenge: How do you get Utah voters, especially Republican voters, to learn about Johnson and then pick him over Herbert?

The opening for Johnson – while not large now – is clearly on Herbert’s right, Jones finds.

Those who defined themselves as “very conservative” politically tell Jones that 79 percent of them approve of the job Herbert is doing, but 18 percent disapprove.

Remember that only 9 percent of Republicans overall said they disapprove of Herbert’s job performance.

So, Johnson finds double the dissatisfaction with Herbert among the GOP’s right wing – and at least a foothold from which to start his campaign work.

Historically, delegates to the Republican Party State Convention are more conservative than the average Utah Republican.

Depending on which route Herbert and Johnson choose to take under the new dual-track candidacy nomination law come 2016, the GOP delegates could get a shot at either or both Herbert and Johnson.

Herbert has already said he will file in 2016 both via the petition-gathering route and the state delegate convention route.

That means Herbert COULD NOT be eliminated from re-election – as then-Sen. Bob Bennett was in 2010 – by convention delegates.

While delegates would vote on Herbert, assuming the governor got the 26,000 signatures needed in a statewide race, he would automatically move to the GOP June primary whether the delegates liked him or not.

If Johnson and Hansen are smart – and they are both very smart – and their campaign has the money (Johnson is a millionaire), then it would be wise for Johnson to also take the dual track route.

And it would be a boost to Johnson’s campaign if he could best Herbert in the state convention – even if both men would automatically be going to a primary election runoff.

Among those who said they are “very conservative,” 5 percent said they have a favorable opinion of Johnson, 4 percent said they have an unfavorable opinion of him, 9 percent said they have heard of him but have no opinion, and 78 percent said they have never heard of him.

That gives Johnson and Hansen a base of 14 percent – favorable and those who have heard of Johnson, but have no opinion – to also build on.

Small, but something.

And the governor’s race won’t likely kick off until after the 2016 Legislature next March.

The state will be sitting on hundreds of millions of tax surplus dollars next Legislature.

And if the GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican Herbert don’t give some tax relief, Johnson will have a new built-in campaign issue to run on.

Some of Herbert’s raw numbers:

  • 69 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 24 percent disapprove.
  • Among Republicans, approval/disapproval is 86-9 percent; Democrats, 41-55 percent; political independents, 64-30 percent; among the “very conservative,” 79-18 percent.

Johnson:

  • 3 percent favorable opinion, 3 percent unfavorable opinion, 9 percent heard of him, no opinion, 81 percent never heard of him.
  • Among Republicans: 4 percent favorable, 3 percent unfavorable, 7 percent heard, no opinion, 78 percent never heard of him.
  • Among “very conservative:” 5 percent favorable, 4 percent unfavorable, 9 percent heard of him, no opinion, 78 never heard of him.

It must be said, Johnson is the chairman of Overstock.com, an online retailer headquartered in Utah. Overstock.com is a sponsor of UtahPolicy.com.

LaVarr Webb, UPD publisher, instructs us to “play it straight,” and cover Johnson like we would any other candidate for major Utah office.

And that includes from time to time placing Johnson in our Dan Jones & Associates polls, measuring him against Herbert and other candidates for governor among the voting public.