A little over six weeks until the Nov. 3 final election and GOP candidates Bob Bennett and Mike Leavitt have to be feeling good.
It takes an extraordinary event these days for Utahns to elect a Democrat to statewide office - like U.S. Senate and the governorship. Following the most recent Deseret News/KSL-TV poll, it's clear it will take such an event this year, also.Democratic Senate candidate Wayne Owens trails Bennett almost 2-1 and Democrat Stewart Hanson shows up third in the governor's race, behind leader Leavitt and second-place Independent Party candidate Merrill Cook.
It's a long way to go for Owens and Hanson in just six weeks.
For some time, I figured 1992 would be a good year for Republicans in Utah.
In both the U.S. House and Utah legislative races, the redrawing of boundaries by the GOP-controlled Legislature means the best possible statistical edge for Republican candidates.
Indeed, back in 1988, then-Democratic Party chairman Randy Horiuchi warned that the long term effect of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson's defeat may not be that Utah had four more years of Republican leadership in the state house, but that Republicans would have complete control over the 1990 reapportionment process - unfettered by a Democratic governor who could have vetoed such a plan and forced a compromise.
In fact, current Democratic Party Chairman Peter Billings Jr. hopes that Democrats can just hold their numbers in the Utah House and Senate this election. He doesn't see much of a chance to take control of either body - which have been Republican-controlled since the mid-1970s.
Yes, Wilson's loss in 1988 is paying off now for Republicans.
But beyond the lines and numbers of reapportionment, this year, luck or fate or whatever you want to call it, just isn't going the Democrats' way.
First, Democrats didn't come up with a big gorilla in the governor's race. It started when Scott Matheson Jr., son of the late, popular governor, decided to sit out the election, not to run for either governor or U.S. Senate.
Then Palmer DePaulis, the popular former Salt Lake mayor, bowed out of the governor's race - in part because it was clear Democrats wouldn't let him be a consensus candidate and he'd face a costly convention and maybe a primary fight.
Then wealthy businessman Kem Gardner also got out of the Democratic governor's race. Pat Shea and Hanson, who faced each other in a primary, are both good candidates, but neither brought the recognition of a DePaulis or the money of a Gardner.
And the U.S. Senate race was a real disaster.
Millionaire Doug Anderson got in early, figuring he'd run against GOP Sen. Jake Garn with little or no Democratic opposition. But Garn got out of the race and Owens, who represents Salt Lake County's 2nd Congressional District, got in. Owens had lost two statewide races already - the Senate in 1974 and the governor's in 1984. But within the Democratic Party Owens is clearly a heavy hitter.
Owens led the race among all candidates early. But then he was badly damaged in the public's eye in last spring's House bank overdraft fiasco. Owens dropped like a rock in the polls. However, he still had clout within the party - almost eliminating Anderson in the June party convention. Anderson didn't help Owens any by running negative ads against him the final two weeks before the Democratic primary - where Owens soundly defeated Anderson.
Meanwhile, in the same primary, Hanson won over Shea in large part because Hanson is pro-choice while Shea is pro-life.
So the Democrats have a U.S. Senate candidate who has lost two statewide races and still carries the baggage of the House bank, and a gubernatorial candidate who is pro-choice in a conservative state where most of the citizens are pro-life.
This doesn't look good for the Democrats. And the latest Dan Jones & Associates poll for the Deseret News and KSL-TV reflects just that.
Assuming Owens and Hanson can't bring upsets - and that Democrat Karen Shepherd also can't beat Republican Enid Greene in the open 2nd Congressional District race - it will be the dark days of the 1980s for Democrats again.
Assuming he holds his office, Rep. Bill Orton, the conservative Democratic incumbent in the 3rd Congressional District, would then be the nominal leader of the party in the state - and Democrats would, once again, be looking to regroup - a position they've been in all too often for them the past decade.