This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Gov. Gary Herbert appears headed to being the third Utah governor to win three elections, with a new poll showing the incumbent Republican holding a seemingly insurmountable lead over Democrat Mike Weinholtz.
The poll, conducted for the Salt Lake Tribune and The Hinckley Institute of Politics by Dan Jones & Associates, shows Herbert trouncing Weinholtz by a margin of 63 percent to 26 percent, a margin just shy of Herbert's 40-point win over Democrat Peter Cooke in 2012.
"I think [Herbert] is probably one of the safest governors in the country," said Morgan Lyon Cotti, state program manager at the Hinckley Institute. "I think it's interesting that our poll is really similar to a Monmouth poll that came out earlier in October, so those numbers seem to be very steady, and it's exactly what [the Herbert campaign] wants. It's been a pretty quiet race."
The poll, which interviewed 823 likely voters Oct. 20-27, has a margin of error of 3.42 percent.
Herbert, who has said this will be his final campaign, holds a commanding advantage among active and somewhat-active Mormon voters, winning 81 percent of the vote among those who self-identify in those two categories. He is also winning 57 percent to 27 percent among self-described independent voters, a demographic that a Democrat would have to win since registered Republicans hold an overwhelming advantage in the state.
"Party is still so important in Utah," said Cotti. "We've obviously seen that it's not everything in the presidential race. But it still determines a lot about how people vote, and when we have a Republican incumbent and a healthy economy, there's really not much of anything that can make a big dent in that."
Weinholtz said that the poll numbers reflect the "sad reality" that Herbert is "escaping accountability." He said Herbert dodged all but two of the debates the candidates were invited to attend, a slight to Utah voters who, he said, "deserve to see him try and defend his record, but he's denied them that chance."
"Consider the facts: Governor Herbert's administration has given us polluted air, underfunded schools with a statewide teacher shortage, an opioid crisis, botched health-care expansion, and an unprecedented land grab of our public lands," Weinholtz said.
That last point refers to Herbert's signing of legislation seeking to sue the federal government, demanding Congress relinquish control of more than 30 million acres of federal land within Utah's borders.
Weinholtz has said Herbert has an eye toward selling off the land which Herbert has denied having said. But in his May 2011 KUED news conference, Herbert said the idea of the federal government liquidating public lands to balance the budget was "worth exploring."
"We're not going to sell off our national parks or some of those pristine areas, but there is, in fact, a lot of land that could be privatized and reduce the deficit, so I think it's got some merit to it. Nobody has talked to us about it," Herbert said. "I would argue you could privatize this public land and have it developed commercially and in many ways protect it better."
Weinholtz said his campaign will continue to reaching out to voters through Election Day and he is "proud to be the underdog in the race working overtime to help shine a light on these issues and standing up to fight for a better way forward in Utah."
Marty Carpenter, Herbert's campaign manager, said the poll numbers track with what the campaign has seen internally for the last several weeks.
"Obviously, it's a very strong position to be in heading into the final week of the campaign and the numbers are basically where they have been all along in this race," he said. "The governor obviously doesn't take any vote for granted and will continue to work and campaign through Election Day, but sees this as a strong showing of support."
Herbert campaigned in Tooele County on Tuesday with two House members, Reps. Doug Sagers and Merrill Nelson, trying to boost the down-ballot Republican candidates. He then went to Utah Valley University to encourage students to register to vote on the last day registration was open.
Despite the apparently comfortable margin as the race draws to a close, 2016 may have been the most treacherous of Herbert's three campaigns since inheriting the governorship from Gov. Jon Huntsman in 2009 when Huntsman became U.S. Ambassador to China.
Herbert was bested 55 percent to 45 percent at the Utah Republican Party convention by Overstock.com chairman Jonathan Johnson, who challenged Herbert's conservative credentials.
The governor took a major stumble days later when he called together several dozen prominent lobbyists and told them he would be available anytime, anywhere to meet with wealthy campaign donors.
"I'll just say I'm available. I'm Available Jones," Herbert said, a reference to a character in the vintage comic strip Li'l Abner, a Dogpatch bumpkin who would do any job for a price.
Despite the misstep, Herbert trounced Johnson in the Republican primary, 72 percent to 28 percent.
"For our statewide positions and for some of our congressional positions, it's definitely the primary where they face the tightest race," Cotti said.
Herbert raised nearly $3.4 million for his re-election bid and spent nearly $3 million, according to financial disclosure reports filed Tuesday. Weinholtz gave $2.7 million to his own campaign, raised another $300,000, and spent $2.9 million on the race.
Editor's note: In addition to polling for the Tribune and Hinckley Institute, Dan Jones & Associates is the pollster for Gov. Gary Herbert's campaign.