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Washington • More Utahns want Sen. Orrin Hatch replaced than want to see him re-elected to another six-year term, according to a Salt Lake Tribune poll of likely voters conducted the week before Tuesday's vote.
The survey noted that Hatch isn't up for re-election until 2012, but asked if the vote were held today, would voters back him or someone else? Forty percent of likely voters would give him a seventh term, while 48 percent say they were inclined to favor another candidate. Twelve percent remained unsure. The poll, conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Hatch who knows he's a potential target by tea party Republicans on the right and someone like Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson on the left is confident past supporters will return to the fold.
"Given the nationwide skepticism of political leaders today, these numbers look pretty good," he said. "I received a very warm reception on election night from Republicans in Utah who appreciated the work I did to get conservatives elected across the country."
When breaking out just Republican respondents, Hatch's re-election number shot up to 60 percent, which should boost his spirits, though the survey did not pit him against any other candidate, such as Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has said he's considering a run against Hatch.
The senator's numbers improved slightly since April, when The Tribune asked an identical question of likely voters shortly before the state Republican convention. At that time, 35 percent were prepared to re-elect Hatch, while 51 percent wanted a fresh face. He fared considerably worse in a poll of only Republican delegates, who get the first chance to pick the party's nominee.
In that April poll, only 19 percent of delegates wanted to give Hatch another term, while 71 percent were ready for a change. A nominee must get 60 percent of the delegate vote to capture the nomination outright or be one of the top two vote-getters to advance to a primary.
Three-term Sen. Bob Bennett failed to do so earlier this year, ending his re-election bid before even a primary contest.
The most recent Tribune poll looked encouraging for a challenge from Matheson, a Democrat, said Quin Monson, a Brigham Young University political scientist.
Matheson briefly explored his options against Bennett and Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this year before deciding to seek a sixth House term.
He beat Republican Morgan Philpot by 5 percentage points. Matheson said he wasn't ready to talk about any future campaigns so shortly after his most recent victory.
He pointed out the Legislature has yet to redraw the congressional boundaries, which will play prominently into any future campaign decision. Utah is expected to gain a fourth U.S. House seat when the census numbers are released next month, requiring a complete redrawing of the state's political map.
If Chaffetz is serious about running for another office, Monson said he would encourage him to target Hatch rather than Herbert, who is also up in 2012.
"Hatch is a better target at the moment," Monson said.
Chaffetz said he would make a decision near the end of next year.
"The tsunami of change is not going away and with Barack Obama in the White House I think the atmosphere for change will only grow," he said.
But Hatch noted the political landscape can change rapidly and he has spent the past few months reaching out to tea party activists in Utah.
"Polls come and go but I've always found Utahns support the honest hard work and effective service I perform," he said.