Sen. Orrin Hatch is still way ahead of Democratic challenger Brian Moss, but the controversial comment by Hatch - that the Democratic Party is the party of homosexuals - has left 37 percent of Utahns less likely to vote for the senator, the latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows.

Pollster Dan Jones & Associates found that if the election were held today, 67 percent of those surveyed would vote for Hatch, 24 percent would vote for Moss, 2 percent would vote for American Party candidate Robert J. Smith, 1 percent would vote for someone else and 6 percent didn't know for whom they would vote.Five weeks ago, Jones found that 69 percent of Utahns favored Hatch and 22 percent favored Moss. So Moss has gained 4 percentage points since then.

Two weeks ago, in a St. George speech, Hatch said of Democrats: "And of course they love - they are the party of homosexuals, they are the party of abortion, they're the party that has fought school prayer every step of the way."

Hatch's comments were criticized by local Democratic officials and carried by the local and national media.

Asked if the senator's remarks concerning the Democrats and homosexuals made them more or less likely to vote for him, Jones found that 37 percent were less likely to vote for Hatch, 37 percent said the remarks made no difference to them, 15 percent said the remarks actually made them more likely to vote for Hatch, 9 percent hadn't heard about the remarks and 2 percent didn't know.

The remarks clearly didn't affect people's opinion of how Hatch is doing his job. Seventy percent told Jones they approve of the job Hatch is doing as a U.S. senator, 25 percent disapprove and 5 percent don't know. That is about the same job performance rating Hatch enjoyed last January.

Bud Scruggs, Hatch's campaign manager, said he's pleased that Moss has only gained 4 points on Hatch.

"Brian has run weeks of negative radio advertisements and has billboards all over the place, then the controversial statement (about homosexuals) came right before the poll. For Moss' standpoint, the poll couldn't have come at a better time. Yet still he only gained 4 points, almost within your (poll's) margin of error," Scruggs said.

He added, "This poll tells us that the senator's strength is solid. It also tells us that the race will close some. The senator may win 70-30, but it may be closer. Moss won't get many more votes than Craig Oliver did against Sen. Jake Garn two years ago - 28 percent - but Moss will spend 15 times more than Oliver did."

Lynne Van Dam, Moss' campaign manager, said they are encouraged by the poll. "Four points isn't a lot, but it shows movement in the right direction. The fact that 37 percent of those polled are less likely to vote for him shows us the harm done by that comment. We're going to take it and run with it."

Scruggs said the Democratic Party/homosexual incident "was poorly handled by all sides." The issue is a negative one for Hatch, and Scruggs said he's not surprised that 37 percent would say they are less likely to vote for the senator. "They may be less likely than they were before, but most of them still will vote for him. What surprises me is that 15 percent are more likely to vote for him because of this."