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Democrat Rep. Wayne Owens continues to hold a substantial lead over Richard Snelgrove, matching his Republican challenger's gains in the polls as the campaign for the 2nd Congressional District seat gets under way.

A Deseret News/KSL poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates shows 62 percent of those polled favor the incumbent Owens, D-Utah, while 26 percent favor Snelgrove, the former Salt Lake County GOP chairman.One percent of those polled said Libertarian candidate Michael Lee would have been their choice if the election were held on the day they were questioned, and 11 percent said they didn't know who they would vote for.

Snelgrove, a manager in his family's ice cream business, formally entered the race in mid-April but has been committed to run since late last year. In November, a Deseret News/KSL poll showed Owens with a 56-20 percent lead over Snelgrove.

The candidates appear to be climbing evenly in the polls, which are considered accurate within plus or minus 6 percentage points. GOP officials have said they believe their best opportunity to unseat Owens is 1988, before he gets entrenched in office.

Owens became the only Democrat in Utah's congressional delegation when voters returned him to Congress in 1986 after a 14-year absence. He had been elected to the House in 1972, then ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1974 andfor governor in 1984.

To stay in office, Owens has to overcome having a liberal voting record in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-1. Despite that juxtaposition, he recently was given a higher approval rating than Utah's two Republican representatives in the U.S. House.

And in the current poll, Owens and Snelgrove each garnered 43 percent of the Republicans responding, while only 6 percent of Democrats say they'd vote for Snelgrove.

Owens also beat Snelgrove among respondents of all political ideologies, except those who labeled themselves as being very conservative. Among that group, Snelgrove was selected 53-36 percent over Owens.

Among those polled who called themselves somewhat conservative, Owens is ahead of Snelgrove 60-26 percent. That margin widens among poll respondents who consider themselves moderates or either somewhat or very liberal.

Snelgrove is vacationing in California with his family this week and was unavailable for comment on the poll, according to campaign spokesman Ed McKay.

McKay, a local businessman, said Snelgrove's campaign staff is still being organized and money is being raised to pay for upcoming advertisements. Another member of the Snelgrove campaign, John Pinkney, said that he is confident that as the campaign progresses the lead in the polls will shift.

Owens was in congressional hearings Tuesday, but a spokesman, Art Kingdom, said the congressman believes the gap between the candidates will narrow as the campaigning begins.

Kingdom said that while Owens told him that the results of the poll were gratifying, he would not take his lead for granted. Citing the strength of Owens' support among Republicans, Kingdom said the poll shows that voters are not making partisan decisions but are pleased with the job the incumbent is doing.