Like Democratic candidates across the nation, Utah's Democratic hopefuls are plugging along, trying to get their messages across while many citizens are engrossed in the private and public battles of their president.

Unfortunately for the state's minority party candidates, instead of considering growth, education or concealed weapons, many Utahns are reading newspaper accounts of President Clinton's problems and, Monday, watching their television sets as Clinton's testimony before the Kenneth Starr grand jury ran on and on.Utah Democratic chairwoman Meg Holbrook continues to say that Utahns are fair-minded and won't hold Clinton's problems against local legislative and county Democratic candidates.

That may be. But voters first have to HEAR the Democrats' arguments.

And the real problem is, are voters even listening?

A new Deseret News/KSL TV poll also shows a disturbing trend.

In late August, pollster Dan Jones found that only 18 percent of those questioned said Clinton's problems made them less likely to vote for a Democrat this year.

Last week, Jones asked a similar question. And he found that 25 percent of citizens are looking away from Democrats. That number comes from 10 percent of people saying they won't vote for a Democrat no matter what, 11 percent somewhat less likely to vote for a Democrat because of Clinton's problems and 4 percent much less likely to vote for a Democrat because of Clinton.

The number saying Clinton's problems won't affect their voting fell from 78 percent to 71 percent in three weeks, Jones found in the latest poll.

If, indeed, more and more Utahns are being pushed against local Democratic candidates because of Clinton, Democratic leaders' worst fears are being borne out.

Just as former Democratic Rep. Bill Orton was likely harmed in 1996 by Clinton's creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument just before that election (Orton was defeated), the Democrat most likely harmed by Clinton this year is 2nd Congressional District candidate Lily Eskelsen.

Eskelsen is in a close race with freshman GOP Rep. Merrill Cook. While the Salt Lake County-based 2nd District still leans Republican, it is the most evenly balanced district politically in Utah.

For her part, Eskelsen has tried to separate herself from Clinton. And quickly.

Soon after the president's Aug. 17 grand jury testimony and address to the nation (the testimony being played Monday) where he admitted to lying about the affair with Monica Lewinsky, Eskelsen said if Clinton really wanted to put this tragedy behind himself and the nation, he should resign.

She was one of the first, if not the first, Democratic congressional candidate in the nation to say that.

Asked last week about Clinton, Eskelsen told the Deseret News: "I've really said all that I'm going to about this. (Clinton's affair with Lewinsky) is disgusting, deplorable. I'm going to talk about my issues" in the race against Cook.

But that's pretty tough to do.

Last week Eskelsen sent out a press release saying that the release of the Starr report on the Internet was done too quickly, without enough thought and care.

Eskelsen has already had two Clinton administration cabinet members in town, campaigning for her - Education Secretary Richard Riley and Commerce Secretary William Daley.

She denies that her quick condemnation of Clinton's action and statement about resignation has led to cancellations of other cabinet members' visits.