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What has been billed as Utah's most competitive high-profile race may not end up being all that close.

A new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll released Tuesday shows that Rep. Mia Love has extended her lead over Democrat Doug Owens to 18 percentage points.

The result is in line with the 19-point lead Love had in a poll conducted for the Utah Debate Commission earlier this month, which has been her high-water mark after surveys this summer showed a much tighter contest.

The new Tribune-Hinckley poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, comes after both candidates launched their TV ad campaigns, including one negative ad Love has aired criticizing Owens for his involvement in the lawsuit that held up the Legacy Parkway construction.

Love leads Owens, 53 percent to 35 percent.

"He's got to stop the bleeding and start turning it around ... soon," said Jones, who said he is "very surprised" that Owens hasn't launched any attack ads yet.

Owens' campaign spokesman Taylor Morgan didn't sound any alarms.

"Doug's working hard each day for every vote," Morgan said. "We're right where we expected to be, and we know what we need to do to win."

The poll found that Love has a 62 percent approval rating, while 32 percent of voters had an unfavorable view of the first-term congresswoman, much better numbers than earlier this year. Owens was seen favorably by 51 percent, and unfavorably by 26 percent, while 23 percent of voters didn't know the challenger.

"We feel it is part of a trend that is definitely moving in Congresswoman Love's direction, but there's still a long way to go," said Dave Hansen, Love's campaign strategist.

So far Owens hasn't changed his strategy from two years ago. His campaign has sought to portray Love as a ladder-climber using her House seat as part of her campaign to become a "national celebrity." And in contrast, his campaign has sought to portray Owens as a more independent-minded politician, focused solely on the state's interest. His ads have highlighted his Mormon pioneer roots, rural upbringing and gun ownership. Love is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Owens said he plans to run more TV ads than he did two years ago, which should increase the number of voters who have heard from him.

"I think when people get to know me, they will vote for me," he said during an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune's editorial board. "I've staked two years of my life on it."

Love argues she deserves a second term because of the effort she has put into the job and the ties she's developed since taking office in January 2015.

"I think a lot of people thought I was going to go out and be a show pony, and be out there and be out in the media," she said in her visit with the Tribune's editorial board. "I've done everything I could to do my homework and work hard."

She's a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the banking industry, and has become a persistent critic of the Wall Street reform bill that passed after the 2008 recession.

She also counts House Speaker Paul Ryan as her mentor. They meet privately at least four times each year.

Love said Republicans will maintain the House majority after the election, a statement every major political prognosticator agrees with at this time. It means she'll likely have a stronger perch from which to push legislation and, if necessary, resist proposals offered by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. She's not a fan of either presidential candidate.

"It is important, especially with the two people at the top of the ticket, that we have someone who is going to stick to our values and to our policies and to demand more from them than we are getting right now," Love said. "I don't think anybody else, especially my opponent, will ever be able to accomplish [much], being in the minority and not being able to have the access to the people I have access to or the committee I have access to."

Owens also brought up the presidential race during his Tribune editorial board visit.

"When you look at the presidential, all the more reason it is important to send someone to Washington who is looking out for Utah," said Owens, who plans to vote for Clinton.

He criticizes Love as a standard partisan in a "big do-nothing Congress."

"When push came to shove, she did not do what was right for Utah, instead she prioritized a party-line vote," he said, criticizing her vote against the Every Student Succeeds Act, a new education law that eases testing requirements created under the much derided No Child Left Behind law and gives more local control of federal funding. Love argues the bill was pushed through Congress too quickly and still gives too much power to the Department of Education.

Owens also took issue with Love's opposition to the Export-Import Bank. The bank helps finance many exports, including millions of dollars in products from Utah's 4th District, but Republicans argue it is essentially corporate welfare.

Love would be more conservative in her votes if not for Owens, the Democratic candidate claims.

"I'm in her rearview mirror," he said. "The only reason, I believe, that she sounds moderate at all is that I'm right there behind her."

The poll found that Owens did better with moderate voters than Love, but Love had major advantages among Mormon voters, older voters and independents.

Dan Jones & Associates talked to 409 likely 4th District voters from Sept. 12 to Sept. 19. The poll has a margin of error of 4.84 percentage points.

Twitter: @mattcanham

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