Democrat Wayne Owens showed Republican Party officials once again that he can't be beat in the 2nd Congressional District.
He defeated Republican Genevieve Atwood - whom Republican strategists called the perfect GOP candidate for the 1990s - by an impressive margin Tuesday, 58 percent to 40 percent, his largest margin of victory since winning the seat in 1986.Atwood was gracious in defeat and wouldn't rule out another run in the district in 1992, after it's redrawn by the GOP Legislature and Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter next year. But Democrat Bill Orton's stunning upset win in the 3rd District can't help Atwood's redistricting chances - Republicans won't want to trade too many Salt Lake County Democrats for Republicans in the 3rd District. They'll need all the Republicans they can get down south to defeat Orton in 1992.
Atwood and the Republicans had such high hopes this year. In the end, however, her campaign withered and bogged down.
In a strange way, Atwood fell victim to her own early success. She beat better-known Republican Dan Marriott in the Sept. 11 GOP primary by convincing voters she was a moderate on social issues. That tag stuck, and Atwood admitted Tuesday that her campaign didn't "click" in the final days. "We couldn't convince voters to switch, and you have to have a good reason to do that."
Speaking of a visit last week by first lady Barbara Bush, Atwood said, "Barbara was great, she helped me. But Dan Marriott could have helped me more. Where was Dan? He was very quiet." Marriott was upset over his primary defeat, a defeat he blamed on the poor Republican turnout and crossover voting by independents and Democrats. He didn't campaign for Atwood.
"Dan Marriott didn't lose this race (for Atwood)," said a happy but tired Owens. "We worked hard. We talked the issues. I took some tough votes in Congress, and I'd like to believe 2nd District voters realized that."
Atwood said she could feel on Thursday and Saturday, as she walked neighborhoods, that the enthusiasm for her that she felt just before the primary wasn't there.
"There was that negative ad about me and the (Utah Geological and Mineral Survey). We had people calling up our headquarters asking if I'd mismanaged the UGMS. Outrageous." Atwood, a geologist, ran the agency for eight years.
"It wasn't the ad, either," said Owens. "I talked about the bare facts in that ad. It wasn't negative. Her budget did go up. Look across the state. It looks like people voted for some Democrats."
That they did. And especially for Owens. GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch summed it up simply: "If the Republican women would have voted for Genevieve, she wins. They didn't. They voted for Wayne."
"I have to give it to Wayne," said Atwood. "He targeted the women's vote and did a very good job. I tried to target in on the budget and his votes for spending. But he kept the campaign diffuse, many-faceted issues. I couldn't pin him down."
Finally, Owens was successful in "wrapping himself in the cloaks of Jake (Garn) and Orrin (Hatch)" - Utah's two popular Republican U.S. senators, said Atwood. "Even though Jake and Orrin campaigned for me, had radio ads for me, Wayne was able, somehow, to make it look like they approved of what he did. It worked."
Atwood only smiled when asked if she'd run against Owens in 1992. "It's hard. I've had great experiences in the campaign. But the power of the incumbency is so great. Wayne raised $800,000. Add the franking (free congressional mailing) to that and he had a million-dollar campaign. I made some (financial) sacrifices in this, and it would be tough to do it again."
Atwood loaned her campaign $120,000 of her own money. If she'd won, she could have easily repaid those loans via Washington, D.C., fund-raisers. Now, most likely she'll just have to eat the loss herself.
Owens' best race
Democratic Congressman Wayne Owens' defeat of Genevieve Atwood on Tuesday was his largest victory margin since returning to Congress four years ago.
Year Owens Republican opponent
1986 55% 44% Tom Shimizu
1988 57% 41% Richard Snelgrove
1990 58% 40% Genevieve Atwood
Percentages may not add to 100, because of third-party candidates.