Being from a district that is 2-1 Republican, Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens always has taken his re-election bids to the U.S. House seriously.

But he's really taking Republican Genevieve Atwood seriously. Atwood beat the odds when she survived the state GOP convention against the better-known Republican Dan Marriott in June. She beat them again when she defeated Marriott in the Sept. 11 primary, 58 percent to 42 percent.Now, maybe the odds are slowly moving in her favor. And Owens can't like that.

Of course, Atwood still trails Owens in the polls. The latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows if the election were held today, Owens would get 55 percent support to Atwood's 30 percent support. But she trailed Marriott up until election time, too.

While Owens seems unable to win a statewide race in Utah - he lost his 1974 U.S. Senate race to Sen. Jake Garn, although he led most of the way, and lost his 1984 gubernatorial race to Gov. Norm Bangerter - he has always done well in his 2nd District. In fact, he's never lost a 2nd District race.

Several years ago, according to former state GOP officials, the U.S. House's Republican election committee conducted a poll and analysis in Utah. The goal was to find the type of candidate that would harm Owens most. The result: a moderate Republican woman.

Enter Atwood, who fits that description to a tee.

So Owens is taking her on at what logically would seem to be her strength - women's issues.

"I'm the candidate who has and will be there on family and women's issues. It's that simple," says Owens. He lists his "early and strong" support of federally assisted child care, the Equal Rights Amendment and unpaid leave for men and women who have family emergencies.

"Genevieve is against those or has shifted her positions. I'm there and have been there for the professional woman, especially the woman who wants to have a family. I'm not `squishy' on social issues, as she has said she is."

Atwood bristles at those comments.

"I'll never use the word `squishy' again. He's a crafty politician and I'm going to have to learn his ways," counters Atwood. In an early debate with Marriott, she said she's rock hard on fiscal issues, supports the balanced-budget amendment and line-item veto but is more "squishy" - or moderate - on social issues.

"He's the woman's candidate? Hey, I'm the woman. My strength in caring for those in need is proven. In the Legislature I advanced the cause of women and the elderly. I've supported women in my career as a geologist as well."

Atwood did vote for the ERA in the Legislature, and took a great deal of heat for it from conservative Republicans, but says it probably won't pass Congress again and other avenues for equal rights should be taken.

She is opposed to federally provided child day care - which she defines as child care totally controlled by the federal government - but says she supports federally assisted child care, such as vouchers or an income tax credit. (That is a change of heart, claims Owens).

She does oppose the mandatory, unpaid 12-week leave for men and women with family medical emergencies, a measure before Congress. "We should encourage business to give the leave, not require it," she says. "Such a requirement will actually work against women. There will be subtle discrimination against mid-management and management women, who may not get promoted because their male bosses don't want to give them 12 weeks off if they have a baby."

She adds, "I will be an ambassador for women, a symbol and more."

Owens' subliminal feelings are reflected in his slogan, Atwood claims. The slogan: "Wayne Owens, he's nobody's man but ours." "Someone more sensitive to women's issues wouldn't have said `nobody's man,' " said Atwood. "They'd have picked a different phrase."

"Hey, it's biological reality. I'm a man, she's a woman," said Owens. "In some contexts, a man can be stronger on women's issues than a woman, and that's the case in this campaign," said Owens.

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(Additional information)

Money Watch

The $1 million 2nd Congressional District races talked about earlier this year aren't going to happen, the two finalists say.

Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Republican Dan Marriott each thought they'd raise $1 million in the race, the first $1 million House races in Utah history. But Marriott was beaten by fellow Republican Genevieve Atwood in the primary, who says she's spent $160,000 so far and will spend between $100,000 and $300,000 more - at the most $500,000 in total.

Owens, meanwhile, says he's sick of spending all the time necessary to raise $1 million and has set his sights on $700,000 to $800,000.