Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon sounds more than ever like a candidate for governor after hearing new poll results that show nearly a third of Utahns would vote for him next year over Gov. Gary Herbert.
"I think the numbers do show it is a viable race for me to get into," Corroon told the Deseret News. "It shows there is a good amount of support statewide, even though I haven't held a position statewide."
The Democrat confirmed he's considering entering the race for the remaining two years of former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s term and will likely announce his decision in January. Utahns haven't elected a Democratic governor since Scott Matheson won a second term in 1980.
"I am seriously taking a look at it. I have received a lot of encouragement from Democrats and Republicans," Corroon said. "I appreciate the support people are showing before there's a decision made."
The latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll found that 32 percent of Utahns would vote for Corroon, if the November 2010 election were held today. Fifty-six percent said they'd cast their ballot for Herbert, a Republican.
And when asked if Herbert should be elected next year, 28 percent told Dan Jones & Associates that someone new should be governor. Fifty-one percent said Herbert should stay in office.
Only 13 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Democrats, while 39 percent said they were independent voters and another 39 percent, Republicans.
The statewide poll of 408 Utahns, conducted Nov. 19-23, has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. Pollster Dan Jones has conducted surveys for Herbert.
Herbert said it's too soon to speculate on who will run against him. So far, no Republican or Democrat has challenged him.
"It's way too early to talk about possible matchups," the governor said in an interview. He said Corroon "is a good person, and who knows what the future will bring? … That's something the Democrats will decide."
Herbert said he'd like to see his numbers go up. "It's certainly not where I'd like it to be," he said, especially when compared with Huntsman.
Huntsman, who resigned as governor to become U.S. ambassador to China, was re-elected in 2008 by a record margin.
Still, the governor said he was pleased with the poll.
"It's nice to know at least a majority feel like you should be re-elected, so that's encouraging news," Herbert said. "I hope as we go forward and people hear my vision for the future … they'll say, 'You know, he really does get it and understand it, and deserves to be reelected.' "
Kelly Patterson, director of BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said it's still early in Herbert's term.
"He has time to burnish his credentials and get his name out there to the broader public before the election," Patterson said.
But the former lieutenant governor, who took office in August, will have only 16 months to prove himself before voters go to the polls. Worse, he has to do it during some of the state's toughest economic times.
"There are few popular choices," Patterson said. "But you can get high marks for managing a state during that time."
Corroon, who is dealing with his own budget woes in the county, faces an uphill battle like any Democrat in a statewide race, Patterson said.
"That being said, there's always an opportunity," he said. "Governor Herbert is a formidable politician, but he hasn't had as long a time in office as incumbents usually enjoy."