Just when the "experts" think Utah is fairly easy to predict politically, along comes an election like 1990.
I love it. For jaded old reporters, nothing is better than an upset. Or two upsets. Or a dozen.And nothing is more healthy for government than change, in part because it comes so slowly to huge bureaucracies, in part because it's so difficult to force it on the men and women who run them.
So, what do we learn from Tuesday's elections?
First off, Utah Democrats shouldn't get too cocky.
Yes, they had some good victories. Bill Orton, whether he becomes a one-term wonder, jumps to the Republican Party or cuts out a niche as a conservative, maverick Democrat who endears himself to 3rd District voters and endures, will go down in Utah history as winning the biggest political upset of the 20th century.
But Utah is still a Republican state. The latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows that among all Utahns, 44 percent consider themselves Republicans, 20 percent say they're Democrats and 34 percent profess their political independence. The 1st Congressional District breaks out 41 percent Republican, 19 percent Democratic and 39 percent independent. The 2nd District is 40 percent Republican, 20 percent Democratic and 38 percent independent. The 3rd District is 51 percent Republican, 21 percent Democratic and 26 percent independent.
Even a more telling statistic: 62 percent of Utahns say they are very or somewhat conservative politically.
With demographic numbers like those, it's the Democrats, not Republicans, who should be worried.
Yes, Democrats Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley won control of the Salt Lake County Commission on Tuesday, but Republicans still control most of the 29 county governments.
Republican U.S. Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch are still here, as is GOP Rep. Jim Hansen. The Utah federal delegation goes from 4-1 Republican to 3-2 Republican.
The real GOP power is at the state level. Republican governor Norm Bangerter has two more years on his second term. He's not saying if he'll run again, but whether he does or whether we have new gubernatorial candidates in 1992, Democrats haven't won a statewide office since the late Gov. Scott M. Matheson won re-election in 1980. Garn and Hatch crushed their Democratic opponents in the 1980s. Democrat Wayne Owens got 43 percent of the vote against Bangerter in 1984, Democrat Ted Wilson got only 38 percent of the vote against Bangerter in 1988.
Democrats did gain four seats in the Utah House and three seats in the Utah Senate on Tuesday. But Republicans will still hold a 44-31 majority in the House, a 19-10 majority in the Senate. When Republican lawmakers and Bangerter redraw legislative and congressional district lines next spring, the Democrats will have no real say in that process.
If Republicans are skillful in their redistricting, Democrats running for the state Legislature and U.S. House will have the demographic odds stacked against them for another 10 years.
Still, when you're as down-and-out as the Utah Democratic Party has been the past 20 years, Tuesday was sweet revenge.
One final note, and a personal observation, on the 3rd District race. The Republican protest vote was so high - Deseret News/KSL-TV pollster Dan Jones says his exit interviews show 40 percent of Republicans voted for Orton - that I have a funny feeling a number of those GOP voters were holding their heads Tuesday night, saying: "I never would have voted for that Orton if I'd known he'd win! I didn't think he'd get elected. I just wanted to vote against Snow."
We'll see what early job performance polls show on Orton. Usually newly elected candidates, flush from their victories, show well on such polls. After all, you're not going to vote for someone in November and then say in January that you don't think your guy is doing a good job.
If Orton starts out with a low performance rating from 3rd District residents, especially Republicans, that's an indication some may already be regretting his election.
I congratulate all the winners, give my sympathy to those who came up short. It takes courage to run for public office.