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SALT LAKE CITY — A new survey is projecting a potentially close race for Utah Sen. Mike Lee in the 2016 election cycle.
A UtahPolicy.com survey conducted by Dan Jones and Associates found that Josh Romney, son of former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, would give Lee a tough race if Romney were to run for office in 2016.
The survey found that Lee held a seven percent advantage (37-30 percent) over Romney among all voters, but gained a higher advantage among Republican voters, increasing his lead to 13 percent (49-36 percent). The only other Republican to garner votes was former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright. Independent voters gave Romney a slim 30-29 percent advantage over Lee.
Romney has taken several leadership roles in the governor’s office and in charitable ventures in recent years, but has not officially said he would run for office in 2016. In an interview with KSL.com contributor Michael McCarlie, Romney said he plans to jump into the political realm at some time in the future, but that he wasn’t expecting anything soon.
“I’m not taking politics off the table,” Romney said. “I likely will get involved at some point in some capacity; probably nothing soon.”
I'm not taking politics off the table. I likely will get involved at some point in some capacity; probably nothing soon.
Kirk Jowers, the head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said in all his interactions with Romney he doesn't believe Romney will challenge Sen. Lee in 2016, despite having a viable shot if he chose to run.
"If Josh were to run he'd have a great chance. He would have name ID, plenty of money, he's a very charismatic, likable guy and he's got a real community interest to him," Jowers said. "With all that said, in my discussions with Josh, he is like the other three or four from those early polls that have a pathway to maybe beat Sen. Lee, and he doesn't seem interested.
"He hasn't formally taken himself out, but he's definitely the last man standing who would be a tough foe for Mike Lee," he added.
The survey found that former congressman Jim Matheson was the “clear choice” on the Democratic ticket, with 54 percent of Democratic respondents saying they’ want him to be the Democratic nominee to challenge Lee in 2016. Responses from voters of both parties evoked a similar result, with 51 percent of voters selecting Matheson.
Other potential Democratic candidates include Doug Owens (27 percent) and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams (15 percent). Independent voters also gave Matheson the nod, with 54 percent of the vote.
He hasn't formally taken himself out, but he's definitely the last man standing who would be a tough foe for Mike Lee.
Matheson, who chose not to run for re-election in 2014, joined the lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs in Washington, D.C., in January. He has since joined the board of directors of student loan company Sallie Mae.
Jowers said Matheson would be the most likely to challenge Sen. Lee in 2016 if he chose to run.
"Jim Matheson would have a chance against any elected official in Utah, including and perhaps especially against Sen. Lee," Jowers said. "He's got great name recognition, he can raise all the money he needs, and he has found out kinda that sensible center that is what it takes to win for a Democrat in Utah."
Jowers added that he doesn't foresee Matheson jumping back into the political realm for the foreseeable future, but that the possibility is still there.
"I don't see Matheson getting into the race. With all the prospects, he would run a very interesting and competitive race. He's new into his practice back in Washington D.C. and seems quite intent on building that for a few years before he'd consider ever getting back into the political arena."
Only Lee has declared his intentions for 2016, which would be his second term in office if re-elected. “Given that the election is more than 18 months away, these numbers are likely just a reflection of name recognition at this point,” UtahPolicy.com’s Bryan Schott said.
The survey included 601 registered Utah voters via phone and online methods, and has a margin of error +/- 4.0 percent, according to UtahPolicy.com
McCarlie’s interview with Romney as part of his podcast “The Michael McCarlie Show” is included below. Romney gave an inside look into his family, his father’s presidential campaigns and some of the charitable and business ventures in which he’s involved.