Ever since 2008, Utah has been solidly Mitt Romney country. As recently as February 13th, 2011, a Dan Jones poll showed that in head-to-head competition, Mitt Romney still outpolled former Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. by a 56 percent to 26 percent margin.
But now that both men are officially in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the gap may be narrowing. The Salt Lake Tribune is running an unscientific poll posted on the left side of their News page, , and it shows Mitt Romney with a lead of only just over 10 percent. While Romney currently has 55.21 percent, Huntsman has 44.79 percent. The Tribune doesn't list the number of respondents, but as it is Utah's leading newspaper, the number must be considerable by now.
Update June 24th 12:20 A.M. MDT: Poll now shows Romney with 54.29 percent, Huntsman with 45.71 percent.
Although it is an unscientific poll, I see no obvious evidence that either side is attempting to "spam" a desired result. I've been watching this poll for 24 hours now, and the percentages have not changed significantly; Romney had an 11-point lead at this time 24 hours ago. Apparently, now that Huntsman has formally entered the race, Utahns are beginning to take him more seriously.
But that doesn't mean Utah politicos are swarming to Huntsman's side. Two of them, Senator Mike Lee and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, once worked in Huntsman’s administration, and neither has endorsed Huntsman. Chaffetz, who has helped raise money for Romney, opined that Utah Republicans tend to be more energized by Romney’s candidacy than Huntsman’s, saying “Mitt Romney hasn’t shied away from his affiliation with the [LDS] Church. He hasn’t shied away from his affiliation to Utah. It makes [Utah Republicans] feel good. It is more endearing...I want to beat Barack Obama and most every indicator points to Mitt Romney being able to do that.” Since this post was published, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has also endorsed Mitt Romney.
Only House Majority Whip Greg Hughes (R-Draper) has publicly expressed support for Huntsman. Hughes cautions the public not to mistake Huntsman's diplomacy for moderation, noting that Huntsman previously took conservative stands on taxes and school vouchers. But Huntsman has promoted cap-and-trade in the past, and has underscored his support for civil unions for gays by reaching out to two gay lobbies, GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans.
Meanwhile, Romney's pro-life credentials are under attack because he refused to sign an anti-abortion pledge circulated by the Susan B. Anthony List that allows Republican presidential candidates to promise to support only judicial nominees who are pro-life, to select pro-life cabinet members, to stop taxpayer funding of abortions, and to support a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. To counter, Romney issued a first-person declaration on June 18th for the conservative periodical National Review titled "My Pro-Life Pledge" in which he lays out his stance on abortion point-by-point.
While Huntsman is obviously respected in Utah, in the end, Mitt Romney remains likely to win the presidential nomination in this state. But he won't gobble up 90 percent of the vote like he did in 2008.