"Let's face it, if we lose that race (Utah's 3rd Congressional District), we might as well shut off the lights here and go home. This is a slam-dunk win for us" - a statement by Gary Maloney, director of strategy and research for the Republican National Congressional Committee, that now falls into the "most famous last words" category.
Utah was considered the most Republican state in the nation. Note the "was." If Tuesday didn't have voters looking to the Democratic Party for some answers, there's little to be learned from the 1990 election.But first some questions. How did Republican Karl Snow lose the 3rd District? How did Democrat Kenley Brunsdale get so close to Jim Hansen in the 1st District? Where were the Republicans who were supposed to vote for Genevieve Atwood and unseat incumbent Democrat Wayne Owens in the 2nd District?
What happened? A whole lot of Republicans voted for a Democrat, that's what.
Deseret News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones said the election was the "most bizarre I've seen in 20 years. I've never seen so many Republicans voting for Democrats, especially in the 3rd District."
Democrat Bill Orton's win over Snow has to be one of the great upsets not only in Utah congressional history but also in U.S. congressional history. That's not a great exaggeration. The district is 3-1 Republican. Former GOP Rep. Howard Nielson crushed his Democratic opponents there, and national Republican strategists considered it a lock. But Orton won with 58 percent of the vote to Snow's 37 percent - a landslide in such a GOP area.
Certainly the negative attitude of the race played a part. "I hope Orton's win tells Utahns, especially Republicans, that negative campaigning doesn't work here," said Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, a Democrat.
"I guess it just goes to show that you can't throw mud without some of it getting on you," said GOP state Chairman Richard Snelgrove.
Democratic victories run deep. In Salt Lake County, the three-member GOP commission is no more. Republican incumbents Tom Shimizu and Bart Barker were tossed out. In their places will sit Democrats Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley. Horiuchi won by only 990 votes, however. If his lead holds up after the official canvass Monday, Horiuchi and Bradley will rule the commission and Republican Mike Stewart will be in the minority.
Hey, Davis County voters even elected Democrat Dell Holbrook to the County Commission. A Democrat in the Davis County Commission! No one can even remember the last time a Democrat served there.
In a debate that started loud but ended with a whimper, Utahns soundly rejected the initiative to remove the sales tax from food. Merrill Cook's Independent Party gathered the voter signatures to place the measure on the ballot, but Cook purposely ran a low-key campaign. Even though the Democratic Party backed the measure, it failed at the polls.
While Democrats celebrated some fine victories, Republicans were taking stock, planning regrouping strategy in Salt Lake County and the 3rd District.
Even with the Democratic gains in federal and county offices, politics at the state level won't change much. GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter has two more years in his second term, and he still has Republican majorities in the Utah House and Senate.
Democrats made gains in both the House and Senate, but not enough to change power. Republicans lost three seats in the Senate - Richard Carling, Richard Tempest and Bill Barton, all Salt Lake County senators, lost to Democrats Bob Steiner, Scott Howell and Millie Peterson, respectively. Two newcomer Democrats - Karen Shepherd and George Mantes - held on to traditional Democratic seats. The Democratic three-seat gain won't hurt Republicans much, however. The GOP 22-7 margin just drops to 19-10.
Democrats made a net four-seat gain in the House, picking up six Republican seats but losing two Democratic seats. Democrats needed 11 additional seats to win control of the body, so the Republican caucus still will rule.
Sometime in spring 1991, Bangerter and his Republican colleagues will redraw state legislative and congressional boundaries. Owens, Orton and Hansen will have different districts in 1992. Democratic state legislators may find their victories Tuesday much more difficult to repeat in two years.
But that is far away. Wednesday, Democrats were whooping it up and Republicans were practicing some very heavy damage control.
"I'll welcome Bill Orton with open arms in Congress, as long as he votes as conservative as he talks," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Hey, I wish he'd become a Republican."
"Utahns saw what Republican campaign overkill can mean," said Pat Shea, former state Democratic chairman, referring to negative campaigning in the 3rd District that culminated Sunday with a newspaper advertisement taken out by Snow supporters criticizing Orton for not being married. "The voters in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Districts recognized some very coarse, negative campaigning, they were frightened by the consequences of one-party arrogance and realized they could change it by voting for Democrats."
Utah is still a Republican state after Tuesday. It just isn't as Republican. Said a subdued Snelgrove: "The two-party system is alive and well in Utah. What else can I say?"