When Utah GOP Chairman Craig Moody steps down next month he'll leave a party free of debt and flush with victory in November's election.

But it is also a party troubled by internal rifts and smarting from considerable defections in the governor's race.Moody, elected to the top party post in June 1987, will officially resign at the Jan. 6 meeting of the Central Committee, a group of 120-plus loyalists from throughout the state gathered to pick Moody's successor.

He leaves early - his term doesn't end until the party convention in June 1989 - for several reasons.

"I'm the new majority leader in the (Utah) House and I don't want party politics injected into that duty," Moody, a Sandy member of the Utah House of Representatives, said.

But more important to the party, Moody said, several party support groups, like the Governor's Club, need to be reorganized and planning and recruitment of candidates for 1990 races must begin now.

"Serving in a leadership post in the Legislature, I just can't give the time needed for those party responsibilities. And I don't think they should wait until March or April," Moody said.

He said the party has a $12,000 debt following the 1988 elections. "I hope that is retired before I leave. We are in much better shape than after the 1984 elections when we owed $100,000." Moody has asked Sen. Orrin Hatch's campaign for $10,000, Gov. Norm Bangerter's campaign for $10,000 and Reps. Jim Hansen and Howard Nielson for several thousand each.

Moody was picked, in part, because of his debate and speaking skills. Republican leaders wanted an articulate spokesman to counter Democratic Chairman Randy Horiuchi's rhetorical skills. Moody did that well, Horiuchi admits.

But Horiuchi is leaving also, although not until his term expires in June 1989. It's unclear who the Democrats will pick as party chairman, but most likely he or she won't use the hyperbole for which Horiuchi is famous.

Accordingly, the Republicans may not need someone as aggressive as Moody.

Moody said those now interested in the top party job, a volunteer position, include Richard Snelgrove, who was Salt Lake County Republican chairman before he ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Wayne Owens this year; Gordon Walker, an undersecretary of HUD during the Reagan administration; Robert Holmes, a long-time GOP worker and member of the party's executive committee; Lane Ronnow, Weber County GOP chairman; Eric Jergensen, a Young Republican national leader; and Robert Sykes, a former GOP House member and GOP strategist.

Moody said there are still some hard feelings over the governor's race, where former Republican Merrill Cook challenged Bangerter, the GOP nominee, as an independent. Moody said his leaving early may help heal some of those wounds.

The governor says he wants to work with all Utahns and have his second term as free of politics as possible. But there has to be some hard feelings, considering Cook supporters embarrassed the governor at the state convention and Cook himself blamed Sen. Jake Garn, Bangerter's campaign chairman, for unfair campaign practices that he said caused his defeat.

Several Bangerter aides say they aren't interested in healing anything with Cook. Said one who asked not to be named: "Cook can drop dead. He gets nothing from us."

But Moody said that isn't the position of the party. "There are still some long-time conservative Republicans kind of hanging in limbo out there. We want to bring them back. You may not know this, but as a party we turned out Merrill Cook voters because we knew they would vote for Republicans down the ticket, even if they didn't vote for the governor. We want them in the party. We want to be the party of inclusion, not exclusion. The governor, of course, can do what he wants (concerning Cook)," Moody said.