Fireworks were bound to explode when Dan Marriott was quoted as saying Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, may not represent mainstream Utah well enough.
Marriott said Garn "is up to his neck in the savings and loan problem" and Hatch "is off on women's issues."But the fireworks that finally burst Thursday were downright strange. Among them:
-Rep. Wayne Owens, the Utah delegation's lone Democrat, called a press conference to defend Republicans Hatch and Garn by denouncing what their Republican colleague Marriott, a former House member, said.
-Marriott called Owens' press conference "dirty politics." Marriott also said he had been misquoted in the Deseret News.
He said Owens simply sought to create controversy that could prevent Marriott from receiving votes from 70 percent of delegates at the State Republican Convention on Saturday. If he receives 70 percent, Marriott will avoid a primary race against Genevieve Atwood for the right to oppose Owens for the 2nd District House seat.
-Hatch said he was not offended by Marriott's quote about him, but the quote about Garn was "inappropriate and terribly inaccurate." He said for a Republican to say that before a convention would be so dumb that he doubts Marriott did it.
-Garn said he "had to take at face value" Marriott's claim that he was misquoted and said Marriott had phoned to apologize.
The disputes started when the Deseret News ran a feature Monday about Marriott, which quoted him as saying he wanted to be the spokesman for mainstream Utahns on some issues that others may be too busy to push sufficiently.
The quote said, "What's happened to the delegation? Garn is up to his neck in the savings and loan problem. Hatch is off on women's issues. Wayne (Owens) is in the wilderness or talking about Arabs and Israel."
Deseret News Political Editor Bob Bernick Jr., who wrote the story, said the quote is accurate both in content and tone. "I was rather shocked when he said it, to tell the truth."
Owens called the press to defend Garn and Hatch, often with tongue in cheek.
"The same weekend he (Marriott) was taking on Jake Garn saying he was up to his eyeballs in the savings and loan crisis, Bill Seidman - who is running the S&L bailout - indicated Jake might be one of the heroes (in the S&L crisis)," he said.
"About Hatch's activities on behalf of women, they are significant and praiseworthy. And of course women's issues are much more serious than Dan gave them credit for."
He also defended himself. "The very day that Dan was making fun of the fact my chief foreign affairs assignment is in the Middle East and that I've spent some time trying to bring peace over there . . . he was here at the American-Israel Political Action Committee conference asking for their support."
Hatch later said, "I wouldn't mind being accused every day of being involved in women's issues. I am involved in them every day. I'm also proud of my work on issues about health, family, the Constitution and many other areas."
He said he wasn't offended by the quote about him but said he was concerned about the description of Garn, which he said was inaccurate and irresponsible for any Republican candidate - so he believed Marriott had been misquoted.
Garn said, "Dan called me and told me he was misquoted . . . so I have to accept his explanation at face value."
Marriott said the quote "basically was taken out of context" and was "not reflective of what I said or meant." He added that he did not mean to criticize Garn or Hatch.
He said that in a long interview he was trying to explain why he hoped to get on the House Ways and Means Committee to push issues important to mainstream Utahns such as keeping taxes low and working on health care and Social Security. He claimed he said other Utah congressmen were too tied up in other matters to be able to strongly push them.
"I think Owens is using this to pit me against Garn or Hatch. That's dirty politics. He's not trying to defend them at all."
He added, "It's a last-minute attempt for a political smear. He's nervous as all get-out about what happens in this race. He will do anything to try to force a primary . . . . He knows what happens if I get 70 percent. I will win against him."
Owens said earlier, joking sarcastically, "It would be a real disappointment for Dan and the rest of us" if he had to run in a primary.