MILLCREEK — Democrat Doug Owens said Monday new polling by his campaign gives Republican Mia Love only a single-digit lead, making their 4th District congressional race "highly competitive."
During an interview at his campaign headquarters, Owens said the results reflect how voters view Love as well as how much more they need to know about his effort to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Matheson, the state's only Democrat in Congress.
"Part of it is her problem. Part of it is my strength. So that tells me we need to get my strengths out there," the attorney and son of late Utah Congressman Wayne Owens said.
Love, the former Saratoga Springs mayor who narrowly lost to Matheson in 2012, was not available to comment. But her campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said her internal polling tells a different story.
"Those numbers are not meshing with what we're finding in our polling," Hansen said. "Their unfavorability on Mia is significantly higher than what we are showing. Second, the spread is much narrower than what our poll is showing."
Hansen declined to release any specific poll results. The Owens campaign released only portions of the poll by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a firm with offices in California and Wisconsin.
The poll for the Owens campaign found 41 percent of likely voters in the 4th District would choose Owens and 50 percent would select Love if the election were held today, according to the information released.
That information also showed Love was viewed favorably by 52 percent of the voters surveyed and unfavorably by 42 percent, while 74 percent didn't know enough about Owens to have an opinion.
But after voters were read brief biographies of each candidate that did not include party affiliation, Owens moved into the lead with the support of 48 percent of those polled compared with 41 percent for Love, according to the information.
"On the whole, the survey results show deep vulnerabilities for Mia Love and an excellent chance for Doug Owens to capture this open congressional seat in November," the pollsters said in their summary.
The poll from the firm, also known as FM3, was conducted July 15-17 with 400 likely voters in the 4th District and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent, according to the campaign.
Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the BYU Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said voters should approach polling information from campaigns carefully.
"As a general rule, I think it's always good to be a little bit skeptical of polls that come from campaigns," Karpowitz said. "That is especially true if we don't have full information about the poll."
The political science professor also said Owens might not have fared as well in the poll if respondents had been told he was the Democratic candidate in the race given the largely GOP makeup of the 4th District.
"Owens has a very high 'don't know' rating. What that means is opinion about Doug Owens has not crystalized at all. It's likely to move dramatically," Karpowitz said.
A candidate's political party, he said, is what's most important to most voters.
"Given the partisanship of the state of Utah, and more specifically the partisan breakdown of his district, my guess is that it would make an important difference," Karpowitz said.
Love's pollster, Quin Monson, questioned the results released by Owens.
"Having him above 40 percent to me is in fantasy land at this point, in July when nobody knows who he is (and) he hasn't spent any money," Monson said. "It's just not credible. It's just not believable."
Owens said he was "delighted but not shocked" by the poll results.
"I would say it was a little better than I expected," he said. "This poll confirms what I've believed all along, that this race is highly competitive and that as voters get to know me, they'll vote for me."
Although he trails behind Love in campaign donations, Owens said he expects a boost in fundraising from the new poll numbers that will help pay for getting his message out.
Recent filings with the Federal Election Commission show Love reported collecting nearly $747,000 from April through June compared with almost $161,600 for Owens.