SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Mia Love is ahead of Democrat Doug Owens in the 4th District congressional race, but would lose again to retiring Rep. Jim Matheson if Utah's only Democrat in Congress was running again, according to a new poll.
The Zions Bank/Utah Policy poll showed Love ahead with 44 percent to 32 percent for Owens. The 12 point lead is a slightly wider margin than the lead Love had in an internal poll recently released by Owens. Nineteen percent were undecided.
The new poll also found that if Love was facing Matheson in the general election, she would garner only 39 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Matheson. Love narrowly lost to the seven-term congressman in 2012.
"This poll gives Owens a little bit of hope," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "It does confirm his internal polling is accurate."
But the poll also shows Owens has a long way to go to close the gap, he said.
"People don't know who he is," Jowers said, an issue that will be costly to address. And unless Owens can come up with the resources needed to raise his profile with voters, Jowers said the Democrat is likely to "glide into a respectable loss."
Still, Jowers said, it's striking that Love is so well known to voters but doesn't have the support of a majority of those polled. He said her showing against Matheson in the poll should be discounted, because "people always want what they don't have."
Love, a former Saratoga Springs mayor who gained national attention in that race as potentially the GOP's first black congresswoman, was viewed favorably by 48 percent of those polled and unfavorably by 43 percent.
More than half of those polled, 54 percent, either had no opinion of Owens or haven't heard of him. Only 32 percent said they have a favorable impression of the son of late Utah congressman, Wayne Owens.
Conducted Aug. 7-9 by Dan Jones/Cicero Group, the poll of 443 likely voters in the state's newest congressional district has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.65 percent, Utah Policy reported.
Despite her lead in the poll, Love said she was not taking anything for granted.
"One thing I've learned is when you come within 768 votes, you don't trust what polls are saying," she said, describing how her high-profile race against Matheson resulted in groups from outside Utah misrepresenting her stands.
This time, Love said, her race is not attracting the same level of attention. "It's an opportunity for me to be clear on the issues," she said, including being "pro funding classrooms, not Washington bureaucrats."
Owens said he was "delighted" by the new poll.
"It confirmed our poll, that this is a highly competitive race," Owens said. "I think it says we have a great chance. Voters know Mia Love and they're not necessarily signing up. They're waiting to get to know me."
He said he is confident he can raise what's needed to tells voters about his plans if elected, which include strengthening families and reviving the middle class. The polls, Owens said, are helping with fundraising.
Last month, Owens released portions of an internal poll showing that while he trailed Love, he moved into the lead when respondents were read brief descriptions about both candidates reflecting their campaign stands.
The pollsters behind the Owens' numbers — Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, a firm with offices in California and Wisconsin — cited "deep vulnerabilities" for Love and "an excellent chance" for Owens.
Love told KSL Newsradio's Doug Wright her internal polling puts her "close to 20 percent" in front of Owens. She said her campaign manager, Dave Hansen, has chosen not to release any details of her internal polling.