Environmental matters made a peculiar backdrop at headquarters of both Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls, on primary election night.
The first inkling of this came at the Doug Anderson "victory party" - which turned into a wake as the night dragged on - held in Ballroom C of the relatively swank Red Lion Hotel. The ballroom itself was austere, with tables, bar, a portable wooden applique dance floor, a soft rock band and rarely if ever more than two dancers."Around our neighborhood it was a bit better than I expected," said a tall man who had been handing out Anderson campaign literature. "We skipped the ones that had Owens stickers on their four-by-fours."
"There weren't a lot of them," added a woman standing beside him.
The idea was that only a few off-road-vehicle owner types were supporting Anderson's opponent, Rep. Wayne Owens; the majority, the level-headed sort, were flocking to Anderson.
Early in the evening, Anderson briefly appropriated my notebook to sketch a chart showing his concept of his chances in the primary. He labeled the left side "% vote total for W.O.," the bottom line went from 0 to 100 percent of Utah voters, and the right side was "% of vote total D.A." Then he drew an X across the chart, with a question mark where the lines crossed.
Anderson said the chart represents this: if only a few liberal Democrats showed up to vote in the primary, Owens would win; if the primary were more representative of the state as a whole, attracting independents and maybe even some Republicans, Anderson could win.
"What does that point cross?" he asked. "I don't know. I don't know."
As the evening wore on and Owens' lead held, some Anderson supporters sat glumly at tables and chomped snacks while others put on a brave front. "I'm excited," a woman said, when 13 percent of the vote was tallied and the results 58 percent to 42 percent in favor of Owens. "Me too!" responded a young man.
As the votes piled up against Anderson later in the evening, his daughter Amy said, "Oh no." But her grandfather, the silver-haired Karl Rohde, said he was "waiting for the down country to come in," meaning rural southern Utah.
"The down country can make it," he said.
At Owens' headquarters - offices in a grittier part of the city, a warehouse and small business district around 2200 South and 450 West - environmental slogans and environmentalists abounded. A logo in the icing on one cake read "Wayne Owens in defense of Utah."
A video showed Owens campaigning, walking along a freeway the previous Saturday. When a man laughed on the video, one of those present recognized the distinctive voice of Rudy Lukez, chairman of the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter.
Owens' campaign was geared up to attack Republican Joe Cannon in the November election. Because Cannon is chairman of Geneva Steel, they were focusing on the Orem plant's air pollution. A poster-size photo at the headquarters was an enlargement of particulates released by the plant.
"Come on, Joe," yelled an Owens supporter when returns showed Cannon ahead of his rival for the GOP nomination, Robert Bennett.
After Anderson conceded, Owens said he would strive to be a "senator of conciliation and problem-solving," and that he would be sensitive to the concerns of southern Utahns.
It was nearly midnight and the Bennett-Cannon results continued to see-saw. Owens said he was looking forward to raising environmental issues in the coming campaign. He predicted they would be pivotal, with air pollution especially important if Cannon were nominated.
But when the tallies were final, Bennett had upset Cannon, and Bennett's momentum must have cast a heavy pall over the Owens camp. Even Cannon collected more ballots than those of both Democrats added together.
Owens did not carry the "down country" - not even his home county, Iron County. The only southern county he took was San Juan. But because of his strength in the Wasatch Front, he still carried the election by 20 points.