National Democrats are thrilled that Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, chose not to run again next year - saying it gives them a better chance to win his seat.

But national Republicans aren't worried, saying they are confident that Utah, which polls suggest is 2-1 Republican, will elect another Republican."But remember, we (Democrats) picked up another congressional seat in Utah this year (when Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, was an upset winner). So there's hope," said Jeff Eller, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"Incumbents are always tough to beat. But we look at any open seat as an opportunity," he said, explaining why he is pleased Garn is not running again. "What this does is level the playing field from our standpoint."

But National Republican Senatorial Committee press secretary Wendy Burnley is confident Republicans will prevail.

"Utah is a state that went overwhelmingly for George Bush in 1988, overwhelmingly for Reagan in '84 and '80 and has a great many talented Republican office holders," she said.

Her committee - which helps direct resources to Republican candidates - has been gearing up for an all-out effort to win back the Senate, which is now controlled 57-43 by Democrats.

She said, "(Garn's decision) should not prove to be a setback of any kind. And in fact, we feel quite confident it is a state that will remain a state with two Republican senators."

She said her committee is already evaluating many strong candidates but declined to name them.

Rep. Jim Hansen could be among them.

But, somewhat surprisingly, Hansen - who had talked for months about possibly running for the Senate if Garn decided not to himself - downplayed that possibility Wednesday. He said he would prefer to run for governor or for re-election to his House seat.

But he said some party activists have encouraged him not to rule out running for the Senate.

"I have made a tacit agreement with some folks not to close that door," he said. "But I'm looking more at running for governor or the 1st District (House) seat," which he has held for 10 years.

Eller said it is too early for Democrats to critique the field and what strengths their candidates may have. "A lot of people who may have been considering running might not have said anything yet, so we may not know exactly everyone who is out there.

"But we see an open seat as an opportunity," he said.