Gaze ahead to 1992, a big political year that sees candidates running throughout Utah and Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, passing out balloons in Bountiful's Five Points Mall, looking for votes.

Owens in Bountiful?Very likely. The Salt Lake County Democrat, the only Democrat in the Utah congressional delegation, will be getting some new, mostly Republican, constituents after the 1990 Census.

What remains to be seen is whether Owens' 2nd Congressional District will gain only the southwest portion of Salt Lake county - now in the 3rd District - or will also get parts of Davis County - now in the 1st District.

One thing is for sure: The Republican-dominated Legislature, which will redraw U.S. House and Utah House and Senate boundaries after the census, will make it as difficult on Owens as possible.

No one can say for sure now what will happen. But interviews with a number of leading Republicans indicate that the southwest portion of the county, now represented by Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, will likely fall into the 2nd District.

"The general feeling is that that part of the county has been in the 3rd District for 10 years and now should have an opportunity to be in the 2nd District," said Craig Moody, former GOP state chairman. (See maps.)

Utah won't be getting another U.S. House seat following the census, almost everyone agrees. "If we hadn't had the out-migration we saw the end of the '80s, our population growth may have given us a fourth seat," said Moody.

Nielson's 3rd Congressional District was added after the 1980 Census.

As it stands now, Moody said national Republican planners estimate Utah will certainly get a fourth seat after the 2000 census, maybe even a fifth seat then.

Moody has made a personal study of 2nd District demographics. He's considering challenging Owens in 1990 and wants to know where the votes lie. If he doesn't run against Owens, he plans to still be in the Utah House GOP leadership and have a hand in the 1991 redistricting.

"It's a numbers (population) thing, of course. I'd guess now that the southwest part of the county would go into the 2nd District and the northwest part of the county - Magna, Kearns, parts of West Valley City - would go into the 3rd District," said Moody. He added that 62nd South is a natural boundary line.

Depending on where the census finds people living, "We (Republicans) could also give part or all of Bountiful to the 2nd District," Moody added.

In any case, the result will be more Republican voters in the 2nd District. "You look at how people voted in Owens' races, in the governor's race, for (Sen. Orrin) Hatch and for (President George) Bush, and you see that the 2nd District is 7 percent Democratic. Exchange the southwest part of the county for the northwest part and you get a 4-5 percent increase in Republican votes. That change swings the district. It makes it a more fair contest," Moody said.

Don't tell Owens that.

"I know they're playing with all the different possibilities to make me more vulnerable. I don't think they can do it. But that's the game," Owens said during a visit to Salt Lake City this week.

"I just want to stay in Salt Lake County," he added. Owens believes the urban issues of the county, mixed with the environmental concerns of the canyons, makes Salt Lake County a complete, unique district.

"It would be a mistake, a blatant political overreach, if they tried to give me south Davis County," Owens said. Such an act would require part of Salt Lake County remaining in either the 3rd or 1st districts. "And I think a number of county residents and businessmen wouldn't like that. They realize the importance of keeping the county, as a whole, one district."

Changing Owens' constituent base doesn't necessarily mean his defeat. Admitted one GOP leader: "We didn't lose to Owens (in 1986 and 1988) because of the boundaries. We lost because of our candidates. They weren't good enough."

But shifting more Republican voters into the 2nd District will help, even if it wouldn't seal Owens' political demise.

"You don't guarantee yourself anything through redistricting," said Moody. For example, he said, in 1981 Republicans thought they had drawn state GOP Rep. Robert Sykes' lower-Avenues/Capital Hill district in a manner to give him an edge. But Sykes, an aggressive candidate, lost his seat, won it back and lost it again to Democrats during the 1980s.