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The race for Utah attorney general is a question of confidence rather than ideology, according to Democratic candidate Paul Van Dam.

At a debate sponsored by the Utah Bar Association, Van Dam said Wednesday he has more experience as a prosecutor than Republican incumbent David Wilkinson. He also attacked Wilkinson for trying to portray him as a liberal who is soft on pornography and crime and tied to Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis."My ads talk about issues," Van Dam said. "Mr. Wilkinson has decided that in order to win he has to paint me with a certain brush. I have to be a Dukakis liberal."

Van Dam said he favors the death penalty and is opposed to pornography.

"I'm not soft on pornography, and I'm not going to take a back seat to Mr. Wilkinson or anyone else," he said. "I'm not about to be painted as a pornographer or a purveyor of filth.

But Wilkinson, seeking a third term, questioned Van Dam's experience as a prosecutor, saying the Democrat last prosecuted a case 13 years ago - a case he lost. Wilkinson also said city attorneys began fighting pornography and massage parlors in the mid-70s because Van Dam, who was Salt Lake County attorney, was doing a poor job.

He also questioned why Van Dam opposed the Intermountain Power Project when he was Salt Lake County attorney.

Van Dam said he opposed the IPP project only because it would have caused too much pollution. He favors the project now that regulations are stricter, he said.

In response to a question from the audience, Van Dam defended accepting a $37,000 donation from the Utah Public Employees Association, saying Wilkinson would have taken the money if it had been offered to him.

Wilkinson, however, said he never has accepted an offer larger than $5,000. He also defended his use of outside attorneys to handle various state cases. He would hire fewer outside attorneys if the state Legislature gave him more money to hire more of his own attorneys, he said.

But Van Dam said the Legislature refuses to give the attorney general more money because Wilkinson has not cultivated a good relationship with lawmakers.