Rep. Wayne Owens, who made his re-election campaign a referendum on his strong views on environmental issues, says the results vindicate him.

Not only was he the only Utah Democrat to win a race for national office, but he swamped Republican Richard Snelgrove 112,017 to 79,982, according to a reporting of 99.9 percent of the voting districts as tallied by the Utah Election Service.Still, Snelgrove indicated he may be back for another run at Owens' seat and promised he'd be watching in the congressman's "shadow".

At least in the 2nd District, Owens said, voters can't be swayed by "anti-environment, anti-wilderness campaigns." That Utahns want to preserve their beautiful wild areas became a major thrust of his campaign, he said.

Owens said he made the environmental ideal the subject of a sort of referendum, "so strongly am I convinced that Utahns support that."

His forehead shone with perspiration as he spoke in the midst of an exulting crowd of Democrats at the Red Lion hotel. In this Deseret News interview, Owens said the two major issues he pursued were the economy and the environment.

He sees the two as connected. "Utah's natural beauty here is a prime magnet for economic growth," he said.

In his victory speech - which many television viewers saw in a truncated version when TV coverage switched to Democratic presidential candidate Mike Dukakis' concession - Owens promised to work "for economic growth and against deficit budgets" that compromise our children's future.

Pollsters awarded the election to him almost as soon as the balloting ended at 8 p.m. Throughout the night he rolled up a heavy lead.

At the Little America, a small, subdued group of Snelgrove's supporters sat in his suite nibbling cheese, crackers, punch and vegetables, but no dairy products, somewhat of a surprise for the heir to an ice cream fortune.

"I'm going to get a good night's rest, that's for sure," said Snelgrove. His attitude was upbeat, but he admitted he was tired.

He was proud of his performance. "The issues were on our side, we stood toe to toe with Owens in the debates," he said.

Snelgrove campaigned much of Tuesday, with two "honk and waves" during the morning and afternoon rush hours, and distributed election literature in Salt Lake City and Magna.

"It's been difficult to get the issues out," he said. The tight gubernatorial race, battles over the tax initiatives, the 1st District race - all tended to drown out what he wanted to say, according to Snelgrove.

A supporter asked, "Are you going to go again if you lose?"

"Oh, I just want to get through today," he replied. But later he refused to say whether he would run again. "We'll let Wayne stew on that for awhile," he said.

"One thing that's for sure - Wayne Owens will always know I'm a threat. He's got one 33-year-old who's always going to be in his shadow."

The main issue was the economy, he said. Environmental issues were important but not as much as economic ones, according to him.

Snelgrove believes he knows the issues better than Owens because a challenger gets around more, speaks to more people.

"If we'd had half the money of Owens, we would have won," he said.

The Republican Party supported his effort as one of the targeted races but could contribute only $50,000, he said. This is "only a tenth of what I raised and spent."

He said special-interest PACs contributed much more to Owens than him.

PACs, he said, "are bad for our system of government. . . . It puts the incumbent more removed from the people." Snelgrove said he had his ear closer to the ground, asking for donations from people in the 2nd District.