Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam said he doesn't have the "fire in the belly" needed to run for governor in 1992 when Gov. Norm Bangerter prepares to step down but does plan to seek a second term.

With a surprise announcement to his staff late Wednesday afternoon, Van Dam eliminated himself from the list of potential candidates for governor that has been growing since Bangerter announced he wouldn't run for a third term.As the only Democrat elected to a statewide office, Van Dam had been considered one of the party's leading contenders for the governor's office. Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis is another top contender.

Tanned and rested after a two-week vacation in Mexico over the holidays, Van Dam told the Deseret News he used the time off to make up his mind about his political future.

"I couldn't find that commitment," the first-term attorney general said of running for governor. "If you don't feel the fire in the belly for that job, then you don't do it."

Even though Van Dam said he doesn't have the stomach for what is expected to be a hotly contested race, he is not ruling out running for governor in 1996 at the end of a second term as attorney general.

"Absolutely not. If I felt I had the energy and commitment to do that, I'd do it in a minute," Van Dam said. "I have nothing against the office of governor."

For now, Van Dam said he will follow through with his promise to revitalize the attorney general's office, a job he said will take another four years once his current term ends in January 1993.

That pledge earned him one of the two ovations he received from employees during a staff meeting Wednesday. The second burst of applause came after he told employees at 4:15 p.m. they could go home.

The reaction from state Democratic Party Chairman Peter Billings Jr. was more reserved. "I think Paul would have been a good candidate. But there are other good candidates," he said.

Billings said Van Dam's decision not to run may help the party avoid a divisive primary and improve the odds of a Democrat winning the governor's race. "I don't think it's going to do any damage," he said.

Bangerter's decision to retire from politics when his term as governor ends in January 1993 made public last month, startled both Republicans and Democrats and sent them scrambling.

"He focused everybody's attention on who's going to run for governor. I don't think that would have started for eight months or 10 months. It speeded everything up," Van Dam said.

Including the attorney general's decision. "I want to get out from underneath the speculative burden," Van Dam said. "I don't want the distraction of having to fiddle around with the governor thing."

Especially with a legislative session about to begin. Van Dam is asking for another hefty increase in the attorney general's budget and hopes his announcement will help him with the GOP-dominated Legislature.

"If I'm not viewed as a candidate for governor, then I'm less of a threat to the Republican Party," he said.