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Though Utah often leads the nation with the highest percentage of voters going to the polls in general elections, this state's performance in primary elections is usually lackluster.

But any Utahn who is indifferent to the outcome of Tuesday's primary voting just hasn't been paying attention.While the electioneering methods of various candidates have ranged from pugnacious to low-key, this campaign for the most part has been exceptionally spirited.

Just how spirited is indicated by the extraordinary amount of money spent in the race for U.S. Senate being run by three multimillionaires and a congressman. Not only is it Utah's priciest political race ever, but it also is the most expensive per capita in the country.

The money is big because the stakes are big. But then so are the stakes in races marked by less lavish spending - races ranging from those for Congress, governor, and attorney general to county commissioner.

In a primary election, it's not unusual for the differences between candidates for the same office to be more matters of style than of substance. But voters should care about candidates' style, too, since it can affect office-seekers' ability to win public confidence, heal the wounds inflicted by a vigorous election campaign, and work effectively with other public servants.

Likewise, Utah voters should care about the potential impact of Tuesday's election on some key issues. To mention just two particularly sensitive items, there are sharp differences between some of the candidates on abortion and on the death penalty.

Voters should care, too, about the prospect for women to have a greater voice in government and politics, with women candidates on the ballot for such key offices as Congress and Utah attorney general.

Moreover, voters should care about the future of the country in general and this state in particular. While the national economy has been struggling, Utah has weathered the recession and keeps recording healthy budget surpluses. Clearly, Utah has been doing something right - and then some. But is it enough? Is a change of direction in order?

Republicans have long dominated Utah, which hasn't elected a Democratic U.S. senator since 1970 or voted for a Democratic president since 1964. But Democrats have been making inroads in the state Legislature and now hold two of Utah's three house seats.

The future of this partisan trend - and of much else - can be deeply affected by how Utahns vote on Tuesday and by how many voters go to the polls. The low turnouts that mark many primary elections mean that individual votes carry more weight than they do in the general election. Voter apathy often permits highly motivated and energetic underdogs to prevail in primary elections. Primary races, in fact, are often decided by less than one percent of the vote - and occasionally a given race is determined by a single vote.

Your vote matters. Be sure to go to the polls and cast it next Tuesday. But keep in mind that you can vote only on the Democratic or the Republican ticket. Don't waste your vote by trying to split it between the two slates.