Democrat Bill Orton's stunning upset victory Tuesday and results of other congressional races nationwide should strengthen Utah's power in Washington.
With Orton, Utah has another Democrat in the heavily Democratic-controlled House. That should bring more influence with House leaders and committee chairmen, who are all Democrats. It may also bring choice committee assignments to help Orton shore up his seat in an overwhelmingly Republican district.Meanwhile, Democrats nationally gained one seat in the Senate to achieve a 56-44 advantage. But that was not the Democratic blowout some had predicted. That is important to help Republican Sens. Jake Garn, Orrin Hatch and other conservatives preserve some slim margins of victory they barely achieved on recent issues.
For example, conservatives managed last month to sustain President Bush's veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1990 by just one vote. Losing three or four seats - which had been predicted by some as likely for an election in the middle of a presidential term - could have hurt them deeply.
Orton's victory also will change the inner dynamics of the Utah delegation, and likely made Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, the second-happiest politician in the state behind Orton by ending his distinction as the lone Democrat in the delegation.
Republicans have treated Owens much like an annoying fly they wanted to swat away and have spent much of their political energy trying. They will likely have to treat two Democrats differently and be forced to work more with them.
"It's wonderful, isn't it," Owens said. "I offered to do all I could to help Orton before the election - even go down to Utah County and endorse Karl Snow if that would help." It might have, because Owens is much more liberal than Orton professes to be, and the 3rd District is very conservative.
Orton's win also may help prolong Owens' political career by preventing redistricting by Republican legislators that would add more Republicans to Owens' district by diluting Orton's district. "I admit that's the first selfish thought that entered my mind when I heard about it (Orton's win)," Owens said.
While Garn and Hatch naturally would have preferred Karl Snow to win the 3rd District seat, they said they were at least happy Orton says he is a conservative - and say they will welcome him with open arms, and try to work well with him.
"I work with anybody," Garn said. "I was the only Republican in the delegation when I was first elected. So I have worked with Democrats before."
Hatch said, "He says he's a conservative, so I welcome him with open arms."
But Garn and Hatch add that if Orton is truly conservative, he may find life frustrating among much more liberal Democrats.
"Look at the Democrats in the House who supported Reagan. Where are they now? They're gone, and a few changed parties because they were totally ostracized," Garn said.
Hatch added, "If Orton doesn't continue to be conservative, he will only be a one-term congressman. And if he is conservative, he may find it so frustrating that he may consider changing parties."
Hatch and Garn also were pleased that mid-term election losses were smaller than feared. Over the past 25 years, the party of the president has lost an average of 2.5 Senate seats in elections in the middle of presidential terms. This year, Republicans lost one and had feared losing up to four in recent weeks.
"Just one vote is important. That's the margin we had to kill the civil rights bill this year," Hatch said, but the erosion of Republican power is slight and less than what it could have been.