Surrounded by former Gov. Calvin Rampton and a host of party candidates, Democrat Ted Wilson started the final leg of his gubernatorial campaign saying he has "miles to go" before the Nov. 8 election.
At a rousing rally Thursday in the State Capitol rotunda, Wilson promised Utahns better housing, higher salaries and improvements in education. The crowd of about 300 supporters chanted loudly "We want Ted" before and after the speech.Wilson, who leads Republican Gov. Norm Ban-gerter and independent Merrill Cook in recent opinion polls, appeared cautiously optimistic. He said the final two and one-half weeks of the campaign will seem like 1,000 miles.
"This race is not over," he told reporters before the rally. "The polls will narrow. I've got a tough fight and I'm going to fight all the way."
During the rally, Wilson sought to deflect Republican criticism of the way he resigned as mayor of Salt Lake City before his term ended and accepted a job at the University of Utah.
"When I think of the challenges that face us, I do not become cowardly," he said. "I become strong. We need challenges, not because they're easy, but because they're difficult."
Then he asked, "Do we quit?" as the crowd responded, "No!"
Wilson said Utahns are most concerned with housing and employment issues.
"Utahns are very simple, basic people," he said. "They don't want fancy things, basically. They want a home. They want a good, high-paying job for themselves."
Rampton, who was governor from 1965 to 1977, said Bangerter's administration is well-meaning and conscientious but "utterly unable to strike the spark to get us going again."
"I see a turnaround in this state in the next four years," Rampton said.
Earlier, former Gov. Scott Matheson, who served from 1977 to 1985 told reporters he was pleased with the way Wilson and his running mate, South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis, have run their campaign. Matheson and Rampton have co-chaired the effort.
"It has refreshed us all in the state of Utah to see a viable Democratic campaign being waged and the people of Utah responding," Matheson said. "It's nice as a Democrat to smell the scent of victory again."
Matheson also characterized Bangerter as lacking leadership skills.
"People no longer have confidence in the chief of state," he said.
Other candidates spoke of the need for better education. Gunn McKay, a candidate for Congress in the 1st District, said he is tired of hearing that Utah's many children are causing problems.
"I think it's time for us to see those kids as an asset," he said. "Let's make them a vibrant force for the future of this state, instead of giving them a diploma and a ticket out of the state."
McKay said the federal government, which owns much of the land in the state, has a responsibility to pay much of the cost of educating Utah's children.
He also said Republicans have destroyed the state's economy despite claims they are fiscally responsible.
"Time and again we've had to step in and save them," he said.
Bob Stringham, a candidate in the state's 3rd Congressional District, said his opponent, Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, has been hiding during the campaign.
"He's been invisible," Stringham said.