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For 12 years, Jim Matheson has been a political escape artist, managing to wiggle free from every trap the Utah Republicans have thrown his way.

But after six successful elections, his charmed political run may be coming to an end.

Matheson trails Republican challenger Mia Love 52 percent to 40 percent in a new poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune, a large margin in a race where, even a few days ago, both campaigns were predicting a tight finish.

Matheson said lots of polls will have lots of different numbers, and put out a memo from his own polling firm, also completed this week, which shows him with a 2-point lead over Love. Matheson, who hasn't released internal polls in the past, said he plans to send the information to all of his supporters.

"This is a call to action, because this is a close race and we're in a position to win," he said. Matheson said he is right on the issues important to voters — education, taxes and bipartisanship, in particular — and has a superior ground game and he feels good about the race.

The Tribune poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, found that the coalition of Democrats, independents, moderate Republicans and women that Matheson has united in past elections is failing to coalesce this time around, with just 9 percent of Republicans crossing over to support him.

Matheson's poll showed him getting 19 percent of GOP support.

Brad Coker, managing director at Mason-Dixon, said that Matheson may be falling victim to the popularity of Mitt Romney.

"Romney is winning [Utah] by such a big margin and Republican voters are coming out because of Romney," Coker said. "It's just not a good year to be a Democrat in Utah."

Love — with the backing of national groups and fundraising help from prominent national Republicans — has also been able to keep pace with Matheson's spending and has become a popular figure among national Republicans, Coker said.

If Love wins the seat, she would become the first black Republican woman in Congress and the first black representative from Utah.

"I am encouraged by the momentum my campaign continues to gain which validates to me that Utahns are ready for a change in Washington," Love, who cast her own ballot Thursday, said of the results. "I know we have a lot of work left to do and know that every vote, voter and volunteer will make the difference on Tuesday."

Matheson is trailing badly among women, who favor Love — Matheson's first female challenger — by a 54 percent to 38 percent margin, according to the Tribune poll. Matheson has routinely won by double digits among women voters.

Carol Beal, 72, of Murray, for example, said she has been troubled by the criticisms leveled against Love in Matheson's television advertisements, but after hearing Love's explanation of her positions, "I feel like she's really on the up-and-up."

"At first, when I heard all the negative ads about Mia Love, I thought, 'Oh, I'm not going to vote for her.' But I've read a lot and listened to [Love's telephone town halls] and I was a little more impressed with her," Beal said. "I think most of Jim Matheson's ads were not all the way honest."

Kari Kowalewski, 37, of South Jordan, who describes herself as a Republican-leaning independent, said she has already voted for Love and added that she likes Love's record as mayor of Saratoga Springs and how she "seems down to earth."

"I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, that she can change the way things are going now," Kowalewski said. "[Matheson] is likable enough, too. I just really don't care for [President Barack] Obama and I know that everything [Matheson] has said kind of goes down the line of what Obama was talking about."

Polling in the 4th Congressional District race has been all over the map, with Love touting an early 15-point lead, but a Dan Jones poll in mid-September showed the cushion at 6 points. A pro-Matheson political action committee released a poll earlier this month showing Matheson up by seven, and a recent Key Research survey found the race knotted at 43-43.

Mason-Dixon surveyed 625 likely voters in the 4th District, by landline and cellphone, from Monday through Wednesday. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Both Love and Matheson and their various outside supporters have poured tens of thousands of dollars into TV ads ahead of Tuesday's election. Based on the number of ads running, the average viewer would be expected to see 11 to 12 spots each day until Tuesday.

Of the nearly 291,000 active voters in the 4th District, more than 78,000 have already cast ballots, either by early voting in person or by mail. Half those are Republicans, 37 percent are unaffiliated and 12 percent are Democrats.

Twitter: @RobertGehrke —

4th Congressional District

The newly created district runs from West Valley City on the north (including only part of that city) into Juab and Sanpete counties on the south. It includes all or part of the Salt Lake County communities of Taylorsville, South Salt Lake, Murray, West Jordan, Sandy, South Jordan, Riverton, Herriman and Bluffdale. Outside the Salt Lake Valley, it includes the cities of Lehi, Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs and Nephi.

For a map of the district, go to the State Elections Office and click on the designated district.