Utah's Hatch, a voice of New Right, faces stiff battle for reelection
Salt Lake City
Across the United States this fall, the trumpet calls of the New Right on social issues - abortion, school prayer, tuition tax credits - so audible in 1980, are strangely muted or ignored.Skip to next paragraph
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The economy, so dominant in 1982 politics, wipes out any rival for the public's attention.
Only 12 percent of Americans say social issues are most important for deciding their vote for Congress this November, compared with 11 percent who rate defense-foreign policy issues highest and an overwhelming 72 percent most concerned about economic issues, according to a recent survey by Penn and Schoen Associates for the Garth Analysis, a political strategy publication.
Even here in Utah, where Sen. Orrin Hatch, a leader of the New Right forces, faces a stiff challenge from Democrat Ted Wilson, Salt Lake City's mayor, the ''moral issues,'' as they're called here, are pushed into the background.
The Hatch-Wilson contest clearly is being closely watched across the nation. A Hatch defeat would signal to outsiders a swift swinging back of the pendulum that swept several liberal Democratic senators off the political board in 1980.
The reading here is that the pendulum hasn't swung back quickly enough to catch Hatch. He has inched open his lead from seven points earlier this year to 10 points now - though from Wilson's perspective the race is just starting in earnest.
Still, Hatch's lead is slim. And he is vulnerable in a way that portends future trouble for the right in Utah and elsewhere. Hatch is seen by many Utahans as cold and uncaring about the individuals who must endure the moral dilemmas that give rise to the political social issues.
Both Republicans and Democrats here see the situation in much the same way. ''Orrin tends to polarize people,'' says a GOP professional. ''He's perceived as strident, arrogant. . . . Ted is a complete contrast. He's personable . . . charming.''
Wilson, seeing he hasn't gained on Hatch, is now on the attack, risking his image to fire up the campaign.
But the Wilson attack is not on social issues. Both sides insist social issues will not play a major role. Both candidates take similar conservative stands on abortion, school prayer, gun control, and so forth. Wilson ''favors stiff sentences for criminals - a must stance in a state where 89 percent of the public favors the death penalty.''
Labeling an opponent the darling of the New Right does not necessarily hurt him in Utah, a state where 70 percent of the public perceives themselves as conservative.
So Wilson portrays Hatch as playing to an outside audience, having ''a national agenda'' - implying White House ambitions as well as a primary audience outside Utah.
Some of this is ironic. Both camps are receiving a majority of their funds from outside Utah.
Yet Wilson's theme, that he would serve Utah's interests rather than a national or ideologically sectarian viewpoint, is attractive to many Utahans. They continue to reflect some of the enclave outlook that led early Mormon Church settlers to search out a territory of their own, free of outside interference.