Washington • Were presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman to go head-to-head in Utah's Republican primary, Romney wouldn't just beat Huntsman, he'd crush him, according to a new poll.
Romney would take 82 percent of the state's GOP vote, leaving just 14 percent to Huntsman that in a state where Huntsman was twice elected as governor by sizeable margins. Just 4 percent were undecided.
"It's a good thing for Jon Huntsman that his home state of Utah isn't a terribly important one to the Republican presidential nomination process," pollster Tom Jensen writes of the Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday.
Some 43 percent of prospective Republican primary voters have a positive opinion of Huntsman, while 46 percent have a negative one. The former Utah governor does better with moderate Republicans (65 percent favorable to 21 percent unfavorable) but among those who described themselves as "very conservative," Huntsman manages only a 29 percent approval rating, with 61 percent having an unfavorable view.
Jensen, of the Democratic polling firm, said that Huntsman's service as U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama and some issues such as his support for civil unions have "clearly riled up the right wing in the state."
Romney, meanwhile, does better in Utah than any other state. The former Massachusetts governor is credited by many Utahns for turning around the scandal-marred 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and has strongly defended his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church claims some 60 percent of Utahns as members.
If given a choice of a slate of candidates, 63 percent of Republicans surveyed picked Romney, with Huntsman a distant second with 10 percent. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann picked up 6 percent of votes, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin grabbed 5 percent, and former pizza chain chairman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Rep. Ron Paul each took 4 percent. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty won only a single percentage of GOP votes in the Beehive State.
Public Policy Polling, which does work for Democratic firms, said it would release more details Thursday showing that "Democrats in Utah absolutely love Huntsman and that may sum up the problem with his candidacy. He's the Republican candidate that Democrats love and filling that niche won't win you a lot of primaries."
Romney has made a strong push in the state in recent weeks to tally endorsements and make his dominance in the state known. Most Republicans in the state Legislature and three of the four Republicans in the state's congressional delegation back Romney.
Both the Romney and Huntsman campaigns declined comment on the poll, which questioned 406 Republican primary voters July 8-10. The poll had an error margin of 4.9 percent.