Utah Democratic leaders were openly jubilant at a Wednesday press conference called to showcase the Democratic element of Utah's congressional delegation - 2nd District Rep. Wayne Owens, who won an easier-than-expected contest, and miracle worker 3rd District representative-elect Bill Orton.
State Party Chairman Peter Billings said Democrats very possibly could have swept Utah's representative contests if national Democratic leaders had been willing to pump additional cash into Kenley Brunsdale's campaign in the 1st District race, which was narrowly won by incumbent Republican Jim Hansen.Billings said the Owens and Orton victories, combined with Brunsdale's strong showing, have definitely set the stage for showdowns in the races for governor and the U.S. Senate in 1992. And, Owens predicted, the Democratic success is likely to throw a monkey wrench into redistricting plans of the Republican-controlled Utah Legislature.
"Our House of Representatives slate is set with Wayne (Owens), Bill (Orton) and Kenley (Brunsdale) if he returns, and he said he will be back," Billings said. "This should help us in our effort to recruit good governor and Senate candidates."
Billings is also optimistic that Utah's election results will attract more national money for 1992.
Orton said he hopes his win will convince other would-be Democratic candidates that getting involved is worth the effort.
"I think my election will give others (Democrats) the courage to stand up and will bring out more candidates," Orton said.
Orton could not resist the opportunity to swipe at pollsters who had him running 10 percentage points behind Republican challenger Karl Snow as late as Sunday. Orton ended up beating Snow by a whopping 58-37 margin Tuesday night. "I'm not happy with the polling locally."
"I think this will make it tougher for the Republicans to move me out of Salt Lake County," Owens said in reference to the upcoming redistricting that will be based on the 1990 census. "We will be ready to fight them (the Republicans) on all fronts."
Billings said preliminary census information indicates the 2nd District will have to add more people. He said rumors indicated Republicans intended to water down Owens' support base by adding more traditional GOP areas in rural eastern Utah to the district.
"I think this takes away any justification for enlarging using areas outside Salt Lake County," Billings said.
Keeping the 2nd District in Salt Lake County would mean trimming portions of the 3rd District that reach into the southwestern corner of the county out of Orton's support base. Orton said he did not see that as a significant problem since the 3rd District includes a more conservative and rural profile than the 2nd District anyway.
"I'm the dean of Utah's Democratic congressional delegation and now I've got something to be dean of," Owens quipped as he pledged to work closely with Orton starting in January.
Orton conceded that the different nature of the two districts, one metropolitan and the other mostly rural, is likely to raise some areas of conflict. But he believes the two can work effectively together on most issues.