Rep. Howard Nielson has one main campaign objective at this stage of his campaigning process: exposure.
His two Democratic challengers, Bob Stringham and Craig Oliver, have a primary election to worry about, but they share a common campaign objective as well: beating Nielson.Polls show the Republican incumbent has a comfortable enough lead in the race that his campaign is being designed with balance in mind, said Julie Nielson, the congressman's wife and campaign manager.
"We don't want a campaign that is too ostentatious," she said. "We can't do too much because he's far enough ahead people would be suspect if he spent too much. But if he doesn't do enough, people will think he's resting on his laurels. Everything we do is to increase his visibility,"
Nielson will be working his campaign schedule around his House calendar until Congress adjourns several weeks from now for the Republican National Convention. After the convention Nielson will make trips from Washington to Utah on weekends to campaign, then will devote his full schedule to the campaign trail after Congress adjourns in October.
All three candidates have been making parade appearances and have the county fair circuit on their calendars.
Each of the candidates has targeted Democratic strongholds in West Valley City, Kearns, West Jordan, Carbon and Emery counties for door-to-door contacts - but for different reasons.
Oliver said he is concerned about a low voter turnout during the Sept. 13 primary election and believes work in the Democratic areas will benefit his chances in both elections. He's had a goal of hitting 250 doors each day for the past week.
Stringham said he has visited every county in the district at least twice and has been to Carbon and Emery counties five times already.
Nielson's camp will be pounding on doors in Democrat-laden neighborhoods looking for converts in the what Mrs. Nielson termed "problem areas."
Stringham and Oliver have slightly differing approaches to their campaigning for the early stages of the race, but both say they are campaigning with the objective of beating Nielson - not each other.
"The primary will take care of itself," Stringham said, "Craig and I have talked. It would be foolish for us to work against each other. The important thing is to beat Howard."
Oliver said he's not naive about his need to survive the only congressional primary in the state. Still, he talks about Nielson, not Stringham, when he goes door to door.
"All of my energies right now are concentrated on the primary," he said. "But I don't consider myself running against Stringham, but against Nielson."
As the incumbent, Nielson has the financial advantage in the race so far with an $81,000 war chest.
Stringham said he has raised about $6,000. Oliver said he has raised almost $5,000.
The big contributions to support a Democrat won't start rolling in until after the primary election, Oliver said.
"I have not solicited a dime from any political action committees," he said. "We've put off fund raising until after the primary. A lot of big contributors won't give until they know who the (Democratic) candidate is going to be."
Oliver and Stringham both said the state Democratic Party has been helpful, lending general information about what it would take to unseat Nielson. "But they kind of stand back. They don't want to be perceived as helping one or the other of us," Oliver said.
How much would it cost to beat Nielson?
"Amazingly enough it's not going to cost as much as I thought," Stringham said, estimating the cost of success at between $75,000 and $100,000.
Oliver doesn't think it would - or should - cost that much. "I believe that with $50,000 I could be the next congressman from the 3rd District."
That's not a lot for a congressional race, Oliver said, but he doesn't believe a candidate should have to run a million-dollar campaign to get elected.
All of the candidates are still working their campaigns at home and are deferring big campaign expenses - broadcast and print advertisements and volume printing jobs - until later in the race.
"People don't pay much attention to the race until a month before the election," Mrs. Nielson said.