Ostlund, a 51-Year-old Gillette Businessman and father of eight, is a mild-mannered candidate who seems bland and unimposing alongside the tall, rugged, deep-voiced 59-year-old Herschler.
If the rival candidates for governor can be believed, Wyoming voters this year face a choice between an incumbent tainted by scandal and corruption and a challenger who is in the hip pocket of the big energy companies.
The incumbent is Democrat Ed Herschler, who is trying to survive a record which includes the indictment of five administration officials and the conviction of two of them on embezzlement charges.
"We're going to win this election on the crime and corruption issue," predicts Republican State Chairman Jim Castberg. "Ed Herschler is carrying a big load of garbage around, and we're going to poke at it."
But in the late stages of a campaign that once seemed a surefire Republican victory, GOP challenger John Ostlund is carrying some heavy burdens of his own that have been effectively exploited by the Democrats.
As chairman of the Mine and Mineral Committee in the State Senate, Ostlund compiled a pro-industry record that is now being used against against him in a barrage of television and radio commercials describing the Republican nominee as a tool of special interests.
"The good news is that he (Ostlund) is against air pollution," Herschler said in a debate here last week. "The bad news is that he tried to removed the sulfur dioxide standards when he had a chance."
Herschler's reference was to Ostlund's effort in 1975 to obtain a two-year moratorium on the state's strict sulfur dioxide standards, which in effect, require the use of "scrubbers" to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions on coal-fired power plants.
At the time he was offering this legislation, which was defeated by a conservatonist-minded bipartisan bloc in the house, Ostlund wa leasing undrground mineral rights to coal companies on 11,000 acres of farming land. He subsequently sold his entire ranch to a power company that was waging a large-scale advertising campaign against scrubbers.
Herschler's attack has made Ostlund's record as much an issue in the Wyoming election as his own. Late last week, Ostlund's campaign manager, Ken Babb. acknowledged that the governor's television spots were having an effect. Babb said that Ostlund would go back on the attack himself in an effort to make the crime-and-corruption issue the dominant one.
This may be easier said than done. Oustlund, a 51-year-old Gillette businessman and father of eight, is a mild mannered candidate who seems bland and unimposing alongside the tall, rugged, deep-voiced 59-year-old Herschler.
"Herschler looks like a governor," one Republican strategist conceded after thei Casper debate. "Ostlund doesn't."
Looks aside, there are plenty of Wyomingites who believe that Herschler is damaged beyond political repair.
During the Herschler administration the southern Wyoming town of Rock Springs has become a national symbol for prostitution and other vices associated with energy boom towns. The murder of an undercover Rock Springs Policeman by his own Police chief earlier this year touched off a wave of public revulsion that was appparent in the Sept. 12 primary, were Herschler just managed to carry Sweetwater County (Rock Springs) against an unknown and unfinanced opponent.
"The people of Wyoming are very proud of their state," said one Democratic strategist last week. "They are shamed by the national attention given Rock Springs and by the embezzlement and other things. They don't think Herschler is crooked, but many of them hold him responsible."
The Herschler strategists are aware of this feeling and they have attempted to take credit for the grand jury investigations that have led to the indictment of Herschler administration officials. The tactics and even some of the language is reminiscent of Watergate days to Herschler's critics.
"He (Herscler) could have taken the easy way out, turning the investigations into a media event," says the governor's campaign brochure. "The other option, the one he chose, was to firmly set the wheels of jutics in motion."
All things considered, it does not look to be a promising year for the Democrats in Wyoming, one of the very few states where Republicans hold a majority in voter registration and in both houses of the legislature. This year Republicans confidently expect to increase their legislative majority, keep the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Clifford Hansen and win the state's lone seat in the House of Representatives.
Six weeks ago the GOP also seemed sure of winning the governorship.
Then, after a bigger-than-expected win in the GOP primary, Ostlund inexplicably pulled back on his television advertising at the same time Herschler started campaigning. Ostlund returned to the television screen last week with innocuous spots that told little more than that he was running for governor. At the same time, Herschler's TV spots were attacking Ostlund full-bore for representing every conceivable kind of big business interest.
The Herschler ads say as little as possible about Herschler. All of them end with the tagline: "Who ever said a quiet man wouldn't be a great governor?"
Not very many Democrats, even in his own campaign, consider Herschler "great." But they do say there is a clear choice between him and Ostlund when it comes to a Wyoming minerals policy.
Herschler has proposed a 5 percentage point increase in the minerals severance tax, which now ranges from 2 percent for various minor minerals to 10.1 percent on coal. He would use the revenue to lower Wyoming property taxes, already among the lowest in the nation, by one-third.
Ostlund says that most of the refund would go to the corporate giants of the state. GOP Chairman Castberg called the plan "a blatant and gimmicky attempt to buy the election."
But there is no clear indication of this point that Wyoming voters are buying either of the candidates. The election is considered too close to call by both sides, and the issues moving voters are negative ones.
"I can't stand Ostlund and yet I know the state needs a change," said a Cheyenne conservationist last week. "I'm just going to hold my nose when I go into voting booth and do the best I can."