A recent public poll showing Republican Rep. Mia Love trailing Democratic challenger Doug Owens by 6 points doesn’t smell quite right. But the congresswoman could still be in for a competitive race, even though Utah’s 4th District isn’t a typical swing seat.
The June 2-8 automated poll conducted by SurveyUSA for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute showed Owens with a 51-45 percent advantage in a hypothetical general election matchup. Operatives on both sides of the aisle are skeptical of the polling numbers, but Democrats are determined to defeat Love and some Republicans concede that the race is worth watching.
Love has struggled to gain her footing. In 2014, she won the open seat 51-46 percent over Owens in a race that was closer than expected considering Democratic incumbent Jim Matheson was retiring and President Barack Obama received just 30 percent of the district's vote in his 2012 re-election race.
Less than a year into her first term, Love faced a wave of negative headlines after using taxpayer funds for a flight from Salt Lake City to Washington for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. She later repaid the taxpayer account for the expenses from that trip. She’s also battled the reputation that she’s more focused on national exposure to the detriment of her local duties.
But Love is also vulnerable with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. Trump is nowhere near where a presumptive GOP nominee should be in the state. (Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins wrote a great op-ed on that dynamic for The New York Times last week.) Depressed turnout among Mormon voters could be a concern for Love.
Right now, the Salt Lake Tribune poll is an outlier and Love has the advantage. But Democrats appear to have the ingredients to make this race more competitive and it would be a mistake to assume Trump is as secure in Utah as he is in Alabama. Still, Republicans have some hope considering Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama aren’t popular in the state either.
This type of district should not be in play, but a unique set of circumstances makes the 4th District worth watching once again. We’re changing the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report rating from Safe Republican to Republican Favored .