The Utah Democratic Party staked out the moral high ground concerning President Clinton's problems this week.

And while some may wonder at the tough language state chairwoman Meg Holbrook used - "disgusting and inexcusable" behavior by the president - when all the factors are taken in, it's understandable.First off, Clinton is not now and has never been much of a friend to Utah. And he's not well-liked here, in one of the most Republican states in the nation.

Clinton, hamstrung even back then with rumors of extramarital affairs, finished third in Utah in 1992. It was the only state where he did so badly.

He finished a distant second here in his 1996 re-election.

Poor electoral finishes aside, what Utah citizens really hated was Clinton's creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument just before the 1996 election.

It wasn't so much that a new national monument was created in Utah - citizens along the Wasatch Front may actually want that.

It was the way Clinton did it - not informing Utah officials about it and making the announcement on the rim of the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. He didn't even have the guts or manners to stand on our own soil to do it, many say.

Still, why did Utah Democrats make such a tough statement on Clinton, calling on Congress to censure him and even "opening the door" for a presidential resignation?

I see several reasons.

First, there's the obvious one: Holbrook et al. are honestly outraged by Clinton's actions. That's what she said in her press release and in a subsequent interview. It makes sense to me.

In a state that prides itself on personal morality and "family values," Clinton's actions fall well short of the target.

But in politics there are almost always collateral issues as well.

Utah Democrats for 20 years have not expected a great deal of success here. Maybe hold the attorney general's office, a couple of county commission seats along the Wasatch Front and, if things go well, the 2nd Congressional District.

While several big-name Democrats ran for U.S. Senate seats in the 1980s and 1990s, in the end their candidacies drew only marginal success against GOP incumbents. And except for Wayne Owens in 1984 and Ted Wilson in 1988, even the governor's contests haven't been competitive.

This year, Holbrook and party leaders concentrated on legislative races. Maybe without a presidential or gubernatorial contest, Democrats could muster enough enthusiasm (and take advantage of Republican boredom) to gain seats in the Utah House and Senate.

Then here comes along Clinton and Monica and that darn stained dress and Clinton admits to lying and the pit-bull Ken Starr's report goes to Congress before the election and all of a sudden things are falling apart.

If you're going to get on the anti-Clinton train before Election Day, why not get in the cab first and drive it, the thinking goes. What are you going to lose? Another presidential visit to Deer Valley?

Besides those problems there's also some minor inside baseball stuff.

Holbrook's husband, local attorney James R. Holbrook, wanted at least a shot at being named U.S. Attorney for Utah when Scott Matheson Jr., a Democrat like Jim Holbrook, resigned last December.

Normally, local Democratic officials get a say - often a big say - in who gets U.S. attorney appointments. Such jobs are some of the few perks that come in a GOP state when a Democrat is in the White House.

But Clinton administration officials weren't much interested in what Utah Democrats wanted. They were interested in what Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wanted.

Several GOP attorneys have told me that Hatch was adamant - Hatch would get to name Paul Warner, a section head in the current federal attorney's office and Hatch protege, to the post.

Utah Democrats wanted Jim Holbrook.

Hatch got Warner.

As one GOP attorney says, "Who knows what Orrin gave in return (for the Warner appointment). Maybe a federal judge (that Clinton wanted) got confirmed" by the Judiciary Committee.

Anyway, Utah Democrats looked bad in the bargain. Their own Democratic president didn't stand up to Hatch and push the issue. The old adding-insult-to-injury script.

While national Democratic Party leaders and strategists were talking six months ago of maybe taking the U.S. House back this year and making some small gains in the Senate, now they are talking just the opposite.

Republicans, who now hold the slimmest House majority in a generation, could gain 20 or 25 House seats and Republicans in the Senate could reach 60, the magic number where they could shut off a Democratic filibuster and push through legislation over the minority's objections. Can you say "big tax cuts" just before the 2000 presidential elections?

Suddenly, 1998 is looking bad for Democrats. Utah Democrats reacted to that this week. We'll see in November if it makes a difference.