Even though the 1992 election is 21 months away, the state's big-name politicians are anxiously waiting to hear whether Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, will seek re-election.

If he doesn't, a list of just a few who may seek his seat - according to Washington rumors - are Republicans Rep. Jim Hansen, insurance executive Mike Leavitt, Geneva Steel President Joe Cannon and Salt Lake County Commissioner Mike Stewart.Democratic Party stars often mentioned as possibilities include Norma Matheson, Scott Matheson Jr., Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis and 3rd District Judge Scott Daniels.

But if Garn - whom polls have shown for years to be Utah's most popular official - decides to run again, many of those politicians will likely turn their attention to other offices such as the governorship being vacated by Norm Bangerter.

No one seems to know for sure which way Garn is leaning - even Garn. His actions and comments sometimes hint he will run and sometimes hint the opposite. If he's had a bad day, he talks about leaving. If he's had a good day, he talks of how great it is to be a senator.

Garn, who is known for honesty, recently told the Deseret News simply, "I haven't decided yet."

He added that any such decision now would be premature. "Campaigns are too long. . . . One way to shorten them is for people not to start them too soon." But the heavy early interest may come because Bangerter announced his intention to retire early, and budding politicians would like Garn to do the same so they can map their strategies more clearly.

Garn, 58, has said he hopes to reach a decision sometime this spring. He has also ruled out running for governor and has said he will not serve in the Senate beyond 1998 - meaning if he runs again, it would be for one last term.

Garn also told the Deseret News about some of the inner struggle he is facing in making the decision - being torn between his professional goals as a senator and his desires to spend more time with his family.

"Senator Jake Garn likes what he does very much. It is exciting and challenging," he said. "But Jake Garn, husband and father, would like to spend more time with his wife and children.

"Professionally, Senator Garn would like to spend the rest of his life in the Senate. Jake Garn, father, would really like more time with the family. It's a tough balancing act," Garn said.

Although he didn't say it, Garn would also likely face from any Democrat vigorous attacks about the savings and loan scandals and scandals at the Housing and Urban Development Department.

Garn is the ranking minority member and former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee that oversees S&Ls and HUD. Even though Garn can point to years of statements warning of problems that needed correcting, other incumbents nationally with less-direct ties to S&Ls and HUD have had trouble handling those issues.

Garn may want to avoid any such attacks on him - and the accompanying pain for his family.

Many budding politicians also have pointed to Garn's constant statements criticizing Congress as an institution as a sign that he won't run. They may be reading too much into those comments, because such statements are nothing new.

In fact, a former House member who was elected with Garn in 1974 remembers the press would ask Garn then how he liked Washington, and Garn would respond seriously that he thought the losers should be sent there - not the winners.

Of course, he has run for and won two terms since then.

Another sign some say suggests Garn might not run is that he hasn't raised much campaign money. He has $86,392 in cash on hand. Only three of the other 32 senators up for re-election in 1992 have less. But then again, Garn spent less for election in 1986 than any of those other senators, too.

While other politicians seem to examine closely every word Garn says as a hint for his plans, Garn gives them one big piece of advice.

"They shouldn't make any assumptions. . . . I am a candidate (for the Senate) until I say otherwise," he said.