Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, should not be supporting Michael Dukakis for president because the election of the Democratic front-runner would hurt Utah's economy, Owens' Republican challenger said Friday.

Richard Snelgrove said a Dukakis victory in November would be "a detriment to the economic viability of the state (that) has the potential for the loss of jobs by thousands of people here in Utah."Dukakis opposes "every major strategic defense program," Snelgrove said, an apparent reference to the presidential candidate's opposition to President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative program.

"Wayne Owens should certainly be aware of Utah's support of America's security," Snelgrove said, adding that "a vote against defense can eliminate the jobs of thousands of our people here in Utah."

Snelgrove also cited Dukakis' opposition to capital punishment in most instances and the presidential candidate's failure to rule out raising or creating new federal taxes.

Speaking outside the Utah headquarters for Republican presidential candidate George Bush, Snelgrove said that support for Dukakis shows that Owens is "out of line with the mainstream thinking of the people of Salt Lake."

He said that Owens, the sole Democrat in Utah's congressional delegation, is aligning himself with the "liberal end" of the Democratic Party, which does not represent the politics of most of the area's voters.

But a recent Deseret News/KSL poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates showed Owens favored by 62 percent of those polled and Snelgrove favored by 26 percent. The poll is considered accurate within plus or minus 6 percentage points.

Snelgrove, a Bush supporter, said he expects to gain votes from being on the ballot with the vice president, who is favored to win in Utah, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Owens originally endorsed Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, for the Democratic presidential nomination. But since Gephardt withdrew from the race, Owens has given his support to the party's likely nominee, Owens' spokesman Art Kingdom said.

Owens and other Western lawmakers met earlier this week with Dukakis. The meeting helped convince Owens that Dukakis understands the needs of the Western states, Kingdom said.

The Dukakis campaign is "listening very closely, not only to Wayne, but to other leaders in the West," Kingdom said. "Their message has gotten through."