SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's incumbent congressmen hold commanding leads in their re-election bids, a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows.
The closest race is the 2nd House District contest between incumbent Jim Matheson, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Morgan Philpot. Fifty-seven percent of 2nd District residents said they would vote for Matheson, while 31 percent told pollster Dan Jones & Associates that they would vote for Philpot.
Matheson, seeking his sixth term in the House of Representatives, said the poll results show that his constituents know him well.
"I think they appreciate the fact I'm an honest, common-sense voice. I'm not a rubber stamp for any political party, and I'm just trying to get things done," Matheson said.
Philpot, however, said that the 26-point difference in the poll could be attributed to recent negative campaigning by Matheson.
"You kind of have to wonder why does Goliath attack David? If he's really not worried about this race, why is he going so negative on me? I think he needs to focus on his own message. The trouble with that is, if he tries to, it's fairly indefensible over the past two years," Philpot said.
That was the general assessment of tea party members in Utah, who endorsed Philpot at an event at the Utah Capitol Monday. Matheson, they said, should be replaced with a leader who answers to Utahns instead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and out-of-state political action committees. Some tea party members have dubbed Matheson as "Phantom Jim," claiming he is unavailable to address constitutents' concerns.
Responding to the claim, Matheson said his wife and young sons live in Utah.
"When Congress is in session, I come home every week. I spend a lot of time visiting with a lot of Utahns," he said. "I'll stack my record up against just about anybody for the amount of interaction I have with my constituents. I do that because it's really important for me. I learn a lot when I listen to my constituents."
Dan Jones, emeritus chairman of Dan Jones & Associates, said that while the Republican Party is trending nationally, Matheson has benefitted from voting against health care reform. Customarily, some 35 percent of Republicans in the district vote for him. "If Mr. Philpot can get a lot of those Republicans to come home, it could be a closer election," Jones said.
In the 1st and 3rd District races, however, incumbents Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz far outpace their Democratic challengers. As a general rule, any candidate who is more than 15 points behind in the polls on Oct. 15 has a very difficult time making up the difference, Jones said.
In the 1st District, Bishop leads his opponent Morgan Bowen 67 percent to 22 percent, with just 7 percent undecided.
Among residents of the 3rd District, 67 percent said they would vote for Chaffetz. Nineteen percent said they would vote for challenger Karen Hyer. Twelve percent of the people polled said they were undecided.
The poll of the congressional districts was conducted Oct. 11-13. The survey has roughly a 7 percent margin of error.
Nationally, congressional Republicans are charging hard, Jones said. "They're very unhappy with Mr. Obama and the different bills he has passed, especially health care."