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OWENS’ ADS AIM TO `INOCULATE’ VOTERS AGAINST GOP’S MESSAGE

SHARE OWENS’ ADS AIM TO `INOCULATE’ VOTERS AGAINST GOP’S MESSAGE

Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens has been running television advertisements recently saying he's a good guy who does what his conscience and constituents ask of him, no matter who gets angry at him.

Spending $80,000 to $100,000 on television ads - as Owens did - is almost unheard of so early in a campaign. The election isn't until November. Well, unheard of for most candidates. Owens' "inoculation" ads have become a mainstay of his election efforts every two years.The latest advertisements all end with the tag line: "Wayne Owens, he's nobody's man but ours." Owens campaign manager Eric Petersen says that's the theme of the campaign this year.

Owens, the lone Democrat in the Utah congressional delegation, is clearly the GOP's target this year. With no U.S. Senate or gubernatorial race, Owens' Salt Lake-based district will be front stage.

Republicans are gunning for Owens in his district, where they outnumber Democrats 2-1. Their main criticism is that Owens isn't representing his constituents, that he's off working on 5 million acres of wilderness, getting wolves into Yellowstone Park, seeking peace in the Middle East or helping special interest groups.

Thus, Owens' counter - "Nobody's man but ours."

"Our polling shows that most 2nd District people are happy with Wayne," says Petersen. "They're not believing what the Republicans are saying about him. But we still have to get some points across, like that Wayne is for the balanced-budget amendment - many people didn't know that.

"We want to reflect what the truth is: That Wayne Owens stands up for the little guy against the federal bureaucracy."

Thus the term "inoculation" advertisements - an attempt to keep people from catching the Wayne-Owens-is-not-good-for-you message the Republicans are putting out.

Dan Marriott and Genevieve Atwood, the two Republicans who want to face Owens after the GOP primary, think the television ads reflect panic and uncertainty on Owens' part.

"I see these ads as a response to my speech in the (state Republican) convention," said Marriott. In that speech, Marriott lambasted Owens for shortchanging Utahns in a number of areas. He challenged Owens to raise half his money in Utah, instead of getting hundreds of thousands of dollars from special-interest political action committees (see accompanying story). "Plus, Wayne knew there was a major poll taking place and he wanted to improve his standing in it, Marriott said."

"Wayne wants to change his public image. He's getting so much campaign money from special interests, people are beginning to believe he's influenced by them. Now he's using that money to convince them he's not. He's not `inoculating' himself, he's poisoning the well, making people think: `Hey, if he's spending all this money on TV maybe there is something wrong,' " Atwood said.

One 60-second advertisement has Owens talking about how his "heart is in the Salt Lake Valley." Owens says he's held 62 town meetings in his district and toured 40 local business. He's visited dozens of schools and set up 19 separate citizen task forces to advise him on constituent concerns.

A 30-second spot has Owens talking about how different people - Democratic Party leaders, bureaucrats and others - get angry at him for taking stands good for Utahns but against the power brokers. He then jokingly puts on a catcher's mask, hinting that Republicans are going to start throwing things at him.

A final 30-second advertisement has Jim Young, vice president of Geneva Steel, talking about how Owens helped save that company by fighting to keep foreign steel from being dumped in U.S. markets.