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Republican Mia Love has a strong lead in Utah's 4th Congressional District, but she's far from dominating, according to a new poll released Monday.
The survey by Zions Bank and UtahPolicy.com shows Love with a 12 percentage-point lead 44 percent to 32 percent over Democrat Doug Owens.
Nearly a fifth (19 percent) of respondents were undecided in the poll conducted Thursday through Saturday for the political newsletter published by LaVarr Webb, a lobbyist and consultant who is not working for either campaign.
This poll, conducted by Dan Jones/Cicero Group, comes two weeks after Owens released his own internal poll showing him 9 percentage points back, 50 percent to 41 percent.
In neither poll does Love, a well-known candidate, appear to have a dominant position in the race, and that gives Owens hope.
"This poll shows a highly competitive race," Owens said in a statement. "I am confident that as voters continue to get to know who I am, what I stand for, and that I will always work to put the priorities of the hard-working families here first, they will vote for me."
Love's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, has a different take.
"The simple fact is," he said, "you can argue about the numbers but she is still in a very strong position to win this."
This Love-Owens race is expected to be the most competitive congressional race in the state. It is the only one without an incumbent. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, declined to run for an eighth term.
The UtahPolicy poll indicates that if he did, he'd have a six-point advantage over Love, 45 percent to 39 percent, with 12 percent undecided.
Love lost to Matheson in 2012 by fewer than 800 votes less than 1 percent. That bruiser of a contest, which featured millions of dollars in negative advertising, appears to have left a mark on Love. The Owens poll, conducted in mid-July by the California-based firm FM3, found that 42 percent of respondents viewed Love unfavorably, while 52 percent viewed her favorably. The UtahPolicy poll put that unfavorable number at 43 percent, while 48 percent viewed her favorably.
"A lot of that is some carry-over," Hansen said. "The way she was portrayed by the Democrats in 2012 is not the way Mia Love is."
Matheson and outside Democratic groups labeled Love a conservative extremist in league with tea party supporters. Owens is trying the same tactic, pummeling Love for saying she'd support eliminating the Department of Education and because she attended a rally for Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, celebrating his role in a fight over Obamacare funding that led to a government shutdown.
Love has argued she's far more mainstream than her opponents give her credit for and in her second congressional run has focused largely on kitchen-table issues of jobs, taxes and the economy.
Owens, a lawyer and first-time candidate, is modeling his campaign after that of his father, the late Rep. Wayne Owens, and Matheson. He says he'd be a centrist voice and a deal maker between the political parties at a time when Congress seems mired in partisan dispute.
The 4th District, which includes western portions of Salt Lake and Utah counties, along with some rural areas in central Utah, skews heavily conservative. The political handicappers at Cook Political Report are tracking the race, though they say it is likely to go to the Republican.
Other numbers from the UtahPolicy poll were interesting:
• 71 percent of respondents disapprove of the job President Barack Obama is doing.
• 69 percent approve of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's job performance.
• Views on Lee remain split: 46 percent gave him the thumbs up, while 45 percent gave him a thumbs down.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.64 percentage points.