SALT LAKE CITY — GOP Gov. Gary Herbert is widening his lead over Democratic challenger Peter Corroon, according to a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll.
"What we're hearing from voters is that even if they thought highly of Peter Corroon … the negative campaigning has caused them to lose some respect for him," pollster Randy Shumway said.
A month ago, Corroon was behind 21 points and just beginning to raise tough questions about the influence of contributions to the governor on the award of state contracts.
Now, after weeks of airing what have been widely viewed as this election season's most negative TV commercials, he trails the governor by 25 points, with the support of one-third of the Utahns polled.
Fifty-eight percent, however, backed Herbert. The survey of 600 active voters statewide by Dan Jones & Associates was conducted Oct. 11-14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
Shumway, the owner of Dan Jones & Associates, which also does polling for Herbert, said the race should be tightening this close to the Nov. 2 election even in a tough year for Democrats.
"You would have expected Corroon to have made greater progress," Shumway said. But he stopped short of saying the race is over. "Nothing is impossible."
Quin Monson, associate director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said the poll results have to be discouraging for Corroon.
"Part of me expected to see some movement because Corroon has been so active with his campaign and with his advertising," Monson said. But the ads, he said, "have a lot of innuendo and insinuation, but there's not a smoking gun."
Add to that Corroon's comparing Herbert last week to Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois who was impeached and faced federal corruption charges, and Monson said it's going to be even harder to win over voters.
Democrats traditionally can't win a statewide race in Utah without a strong showing in Salt Lake County, but Herbert bests Corroon there, too, 47 percent to 42 percent, according to the poll.
Corroon tried to sound upbeat about the poll.
"You always hope it's a very close race," he said. "This is just a snapshot in time, and there's a lot of things that can happen in two weeks and we're still getting our message out."
The mayor said the campaign will begin airing new television commercials next week "giving more people a chance to hear what our positions are on different issues."
But he continued to defend the ads focused on the influence of contributions to Herbert's campaign, including $87,500 from members of the winning bid team on the $1.7 billion project to rebuild I-15 through Utah County.
"Going negative is going after people's children or mentioning something about people's race or religion. I think this campaign has been about the facts," Corroon said. "Maybe it's uncomfortable for some people, but those are the facts."
Herbert's campaign spokesman, Don Olsen, said the poll results show "people are responding to Gov. Herbert and to his good, positive campaign."
The governor, Olsen said, is "obviously very pleased that he has maintained a good, solid — solid — double-digit lead. Twenty-five points by your poll at this stage of the campaign is a good spot to be in."
Olsen declined to comment on Corroon's campaign choices. "I'm not going to comment on the governor's opponent or the campaign he has run. Frankly, I don't this it's worthy of comment."