Few people in Utah will watch November's election returns as closely as U.S. Attorney Brent Ward.

If Michael Dukakis becomes president, Ward probably will be a few months from unemployment. And if George Bush becomes president, "then the question becomes how long," the chief prosecutor said.While Ward brushes off the pending transition - "uncertainty was one of the only certainties of the job" - it becomes apparent talking with him that he's savoring what are likely his last months in "the perfect job."

The presidential election combined with the financial demand of a growing family are pointing the two-term U.S. attorney toward a return to private practice. He's already mulling inquiries from several Salt Lake law firms.

"This job is everything I could want from a job," he said. "It's the best job in government for a lawyer. I'm not sure that even being a judge is better. I've applied to be a judge before, but I'm not sure it's any better than this."

Perpetual speculation among politicians and reporters has had the 42-year-old Republican always about to run for office, maybe the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. But Ward says he's tried to silence those rumblings for fear his office would be seen as more political than prosecutorial.

But the talk keeps resurfacing. Maybe it's the high profile Ward admits he's sought for the prosecutor's office.

Or it may be Ward's apparently subconscious penchant for speaking in campaign slogans.

"I like doing what's right for the right reason," he said, fairly beaming through his glasses. "To feel like you're doing good . . . that sense of reward is something money can't buy.

"You could say it's an anchor in my philosophy of life," he said, "and it's something I want my family to have - to have the same inclination to contribute to their community."

Because he was not appointed until 11 months into the Reagan administration and not officially appointed to a second term until July 1986, Ward could continue in the post until mid-1990.

But it is customary for U.S. attorneys to submit their resignations with the election of an opposing party's presidential candidate. Ward said he might remain in his post for a short time if he were allowed to run the office with the same wide latitude he's had under Reagan.

Even if there is a Bush victory, "as time goes on I'm getting more and more ready for a change. . . . I've been in this job longer than I've been in any other job."

In his 61/2 years as U.S. attorney, Ward has overseen some of Utah's most high-profile prosecutions - Grant Affleck, dial-a-porn companies, the closing of Salt Lake City's last two X-rated movie theaters. The business licenses and key to those theaters are framed among Ward's keepsakes in the adjoining conference room.

Just this summer he or his assistants have prosecuted the Singer-Swapp family, the Navajo murder suspects and part of a nationwide crackdown on mail-order pornography.

Tuesday night, after two Navajos were convicted, despite numerous witness recantations, for the killings of two tribal officers, Ward was ecstatic. "There is a tangible benefit in that," he said. "Maybe years from now the Navajos will know they can get justice from the white man's court."

He sounds almost religious describing his beliefs in "right," "community good" and "public service." "I do have something of an evangelical zeal," he said. "But I think that's good if it doesn't cloud your judgment. I wouldn't want to be a caretaker here."

His zeal leads him to regular anti-drug seminars at high schools.