When Genevieve Atwood beat former Rep. Dan Marriott in the Republican primary, she may have helped Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, beat a historical Utah election jinx.
If Marriott had been the winner, he threatened to make Owens the fourth link in a cursed chain of politicians.That's because every time a House member from Utah has regained his seat after once leaving Congress, he has been beaten for good by someone who - just like him - also sooner or later left Congress and subsequently made a comeback.
The first link in the jinxed chain was Republican Rep. William A. Dawson, who served one term from 1943-45 and then regained his seat from 1953-59. He was unseated for good by Democratic Rep. David King, the second link in the chain.
King served from 1959-63, and like his predecessor regained his seat later, from 1965-69. He was then beaten for good by the chain's third link, Republican Rep. Sherman P. Lloyd.
Lloyd served one term from 1963-65, and like King and Dawson later regained his seat from 1967-73. Lloyd was defeated for good by Owens.
Owens served one term from 1973-75. Then he too later regained his seat and has served in Congress since 1987.
When Marriott - who served from 1977-1985 - ran this year, it looked as if the jinx might repeat itself. But Marriott lost.
"We Democrats in Utah keep finding ways to continually cheat death," Owens joked.
Of course, it will not be possible to know whether Owens has cheated the jinx for good until he finally and permanently is beaten or retires from Congress.
After all, Atwood could keep the chain alive if she were to beat Owens, later leave the House but then regain her seat.
Also, if Owens wins this year, other former congressmen are still around who could always try to unseat him in another year. Former House members from Utah's 2nd District who are still alive include Marriott, David Monson, Allan T. Howe and King - although Howe and King no longer live in the state.
Several other superstitions exist that may help in guessing the outcome of races.
For example, no Salt Lake County commissioner has ever been elected to higher office - although there have been a dozen attempts. The last victim was M. Tom Shimizu, who lost a race for Congress in 1986 to Owens.
Shimizu not only was fighting uphill that year against the commission jinx but also had to fight against the jinxed chain of which Owens may be part - since that was the year Owens made his comeback.
Another jinx, for superstition lovers, is that no one who has ever served as a mayor of any city has ever been elected president. Hubert H. Humphrey, who was once mayor of Minneapolis, came the closest by losing narrowly in 1968 to Richard Nixon. The road to the White House apparently does not go through City Hall.
A few other tidbits from Utah's history might also be fun to review as House races in Utah reach into the home stretch:
- Despite the jinx that Owens faces, House incumbents have done well in Utah historically - winning 57 races and losing just 13 for a batting average of .814. Nationally in 1988, the average for House incumbents was much higher - a 98.5 percent re-election rate.
- Utah's 3rd District seat is open this year because Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, is retiring. Polls show Republican Karl Snow ahead of Democrat Bill Orton in the heavily Republican district. But in Utah since statehood, Democrats have won 11 and lost 10 races for open House seats.
- The 29 House members elected from Utah since statehood have served an average of 3.14 terms. Owens has now served three in the 2nd District and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, has served five in the 1st District - suggesting both are at or beyond the length of time Utahns normally allow their representatives to serve.
The record number of terms for a House member from Utah was seven by Rep. J. Will Robinson, D-Utah (1933-1947). Two others served six terms and three others served five. In contrast, the longest-serving member now in the U.S. House, Rep. Jamie Whitten, D-Miss., has been there 49 years, or 25 terms.