UTAH IS THE LAST STATE in the Union to begin talking about the economy. For Democratic Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, who is arming to unseat Republication incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch, the luxury of Democratic challengers throughout the nation--attacking President Reagon's programs--was taboo for him until a month ago, when the highest state unemployment rate since before World War II (8.7 percent) was announced and the largest copper and steel manufacturers began massive layoffs.
And even now that Wilson has begun speaking out against Reagan's plan-and coincidentally closed Hatch's 15 percent to 8 percent lead over the last two weeks--he has had to walk a tightrope between attacking the president's policies and appearing to support the man himself. In Utah, says Wilson's campaign manager Micheal Graham, it's still "a candidate's death warrant" to criticize Reagan on anything but the economy.
In a state where Reagan has injected himself so visibly into the Senate race, campaigning in person for Hatch twice in the last six weeks, observers say a good deal will ride on whether the Mormon population--almost 7 percent of the electorate--is fed up with the worsening economic outlook or still responding to the president's personal draw.
REPAYING HATCH, who campaigned for him in 38 states in 1980, Reagan not only visited Utah once to support the Republican senator on his own turf, but also made what the press characterized as a panic second appearance on Friday. Conversely, Hatch has championed the conservative causes to which his constituency is receptive--a constitutional balanced-budget amendment, a ban on federally funded abortions, and an increased defense budget.
Unable to command the Mormon vote directly--both candidates are Mormon, and the church almost never makes open political endorsements--Wilson supporters have stressed Hatch's active national involvement and have energetically harped on the senator's apparent neglect of Utah in favor of the national stage.
Hatch backers retaliate by accusing Wilson of financial inefficiency, saying he will bring the state the same high spending, high tax policies he used in Salt Lake City. They charge too that Wilson knows he cannot win Hatch's seat, but wants to solidify his party base for a 1984 try for governor.
Besides dismissing such claims as "garbage," Wilson supporters have gotten some mileage out of Hatch's perceived coldness and aloofness, while trying to portray Wilson as a warm and trusting person. The implications, though, do not appear to take the mayor far enough to overtake the incumbent's popularity at home. Though his own communications director concedes that Hatch is not "warm and fuzzy," the Republican is the favorite going in.