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CLINTON HASN’T HURT 2 UTAH DEMOS YET

SHARE CLINTON HASN’T HURT 2 UTAH DEMOS YET

While pundits predict Bill Clinton's unpopularity will sink many Democrats this year, Reps. Bill Orton and Karen Shepherd, D-Utah, seem well-positioned to stay afloat anyway.

Officials from both parties told a National Press Club forum this week that Democrats may lose 15 to 25 House seats or more this year.They say reasons range from an anti-incumbent mood when most incumbents are Democrats to having more open races for what have been Democratic-held seats. But both sides agree the biggest reason is Clinton's low popularity.

"Let's face it. Bill Clinton is a real liability for Democrats this year," said political analyst Charles Cook, a strong Democrat.

He and others see Democratic candidates coping in two ways.

One is to "run from Clinton like a scalded dog," as National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Bill Paxon put it. The other is to run a campaign parallel of Clinton, praising his policies but not mentioning his name.

Utah's two Democratic House members may demonstrate both.

Orton distanced himself from Clinton long ago. Studies last year showed he supported Clinton less than all but eight House Democrats - voting with him only 62 percent of the time. Nine Republicans even voted with Clinton more often than did Orton.

That easily allows Orton to show he is not a "Clinton Democrat," which could make Clinton a non-issue in his race.

What could be an issue, though, are some of the acrobatics such stances force him to perform to prevent the Democratic Party from totally ostracizing him for maverick behavior.

After all, he was the eighth least-loyal Democrat in the House last year - which brought a public rebuke from House Budget Committee Chairman Martin Olav Sabo, who wondered why Orton was given a seat on his panel when he won't vote with the party.

That may be partially why Orton brokered a deal with House leaders last week that brought just enough fellow mavericks back into the fold to avoid a weeklong budget-cutting vote spree, which leaders had opposed but Orton had seemed to favor.

Orton even once appeared with Ross Perot and a host of Republicans calling for members to sign a petition to force the "A to Z" budget plan to the House floor, where for a week members would vote on a series of cuts with no more than an hour of debate for each.

But then Orton didn't sign the petition himself. He brokered a compromise where House leaders will open up debate on appropriations bills to address cuts - which Orton said allows more thoughtful debate.

That has some Perot and budget-hawk groups calling Orton a traitor, while it showed House leaders he can work with them even as a maverick.

In contrast to Orton, Shepherd has been a relatively strong supporter of Clinton. She voted with him 79 percent of the time last year, including on such high-profile votes as raising taxes and passing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But she has differed with Clinton on many issues too, which she could use to show she is not a blind follower. They include her support of a balanced budget amendment, attacking the space station and advanced solid rocket motor and helping kill the super-con-ducting super collider.

Another factor that could help her survive attacks for supporting Clinton is that she is facing both Republican Enid Greene Waldholtz and independent Merrill Cook. They would split any anti-Clinton voters.

A health forum Shepherd hosted in Utah last week also helps show how she may address issues such as health-care reform without turning it into a personal debate on Clinton.

She had six people outline six major reform proposals before Congress, without identifying who sponsored them. She showed how people with different problems would be affected by each and had the audience vote on which it thought was best.

The audience supported one proposed by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y. She talked about the issue without invoking Clinton's name. If she can do that through the campaign, his unpopularity should not hurt her.