Bill Orton has barely had time to warm up his congressional seat, but already political observers are wondering if the maverick Democrat is beatable.
Orton is making all the right moves. He's highly visible. His votes in Congress are generally in line with the sentiments of his constituents and he's winning respect from his fellow members of Congress."Bill has proven he is very articulate, that he is a hard worker and he . . . studies the issues very hard," said Provo Mayor Joe Jenkins.
In the heart of the 3rd District, Utah County, Republicans acknowledge beating Orton in the next election could be tough - if not impossible.
"Republicans would be very foolish if we thought somehow we could just whisk Bill Orton aside. If that seat is going to be reclaimed we are going to have to fight for it," said Raylene Ireland, former Utah County Republican chairwoman.
In just four months, Orton's approval rating has reached heights that longtime politicians would die for.
In a Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones in March, Orton got a 57 percent approval rating. In a poll Jones conducted for Geneva Steel, 66 percent of respondents said they felt favorably about Orton. Only 1 percent said they felt unfavorably andjust 5 percent had never heard of him.
"He's done something right to be that well-known," said Geneva President Joe Cannon. "It is hard for him to do better than this. He is really well-regarded."
Orton's approval ratings are "more than satisfactory" for someone who had been in office barely three months when the poll was taken, said Merelyn Worthy, his district director.
What's Orton doing right? It's too early to tell what mark he'll make on the committees he serves on: the trade subcommittee of the foreign affairs committee and the small business subcommittee of the banking, finance and urban affairs committee.
Orton also was recently named to the Task Force on the Resolution Trust Corporation, a special panel reviewing the agency's operation.
But Orton has co-sponsored some good bills. And he's not been afraid to break ranks with Democrats on certain issues.
Some Republicans say that's by design.
"The national party is very savvy about Bill," Ireland said. "They will extend him leeway when they know they have the vote in place to keep up the conservative constituency."
Nonsense, said Worthy.
"He has not had pressure put on him," Worthy said. "He is his own man and they realize that. He hasn't had to ask them permission (on how to vote), nor would he let them pull his strings. It's never even been an issue at all.
"Looking at his voting records, it's not strictly along party lines," Worthy said. "He's been voting his conscience, what seems to be the needs of the constituents."
Orton may prove to be a tough challenge, but Republicans aren't ready to call knocking him off his congressional pedestal impossible.
"No one is invincible in political office," Ireland said. "I've seen some stunning upsets on both sides of the fence in Utah. My feeling is Bill Orton can be beaten."
Who, for example, would have imagined that today we'd be calling Orton "Congressman?"