The longtime Utah senator, who is trying to avoid losing, as Bennett did in 2010, at this month’s state GOP convention, released a poll Monday showing he’s in control when it comes to that convention vote. The data also suggests he might do something no one thought possible a few months ago: avoid a primary entirely.
The poll, from respected Utah pollster Dan Jones and Associates, shows Hatch leading former state senator Dan Liljenquist 62 percent to 16 percent among 335 newly elected delegates to the convention.
The delegates were chosen as part of a multi-step process beginning at caucuses last month. About 4,000 of them will vote at the convention April 21.
A candidate can win the nomination before the primary if he or she gets 60 percent of the vote at the convention. If no candidate reaches that threshold, even after the field is reduced to two candidates, the remaining two candidates fight it out in a June 26 primary.
In 2010, Bennett didn’t even make it to the final two candidates, finishing third. Now-Sen. Mike Lee and former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater went to a primary, which Lee won.
The poll shows Hatch is likely to avoid that primary. He’s already over 60 percent in the poll, and another 22 percent support either a third candidate, state Rep. Chris Herrod, or haven’t decided. Given Herrod is unlikely to make the final matchup, his supporters would have to go to either Hatch or Liljenquist.
When Herrod is eliminated from the poll, most of his supporters go to Liljenquist, but Hatch still leads 67 percent to 24 percent — further increasing the chance that he would surpass the 60 percent threshold.
But the head-to-head numbers aren’t the only good signs for Hatch.
Nearly eight in 10 voters have a favorable opinion of him, compared to just 60 percent who say the same of Liljenquist (Liljenquist’s unfavorable rating is actually higher than Hatch’s). And a strong majority — 57 percent — say Hatch deserves reelection.
In addition, the main third-party group opposing Hatch, FreedomWorks, is very unpopular, with just 16 percent viewing it favorably and 57 percent saying they have an unfavorable impression.
It all paints a very difficult picture for Liljenquist later this month and suggests Hatch’s campaign has been doing what it needs to in order to avoid Bennett’s fate.
“The results of the poll show that Senator Hatch has a great deal of support among the new delegates to the state convention,” said Dave Hansen, Hatch’s campaign manager. “Neither the senator nor the campaign is taking anything for granted. He will continue to work hard meeting with as many state delegates as possible before the state convention.”
Liljenquist’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.