As the campaign winds down and Congress experiences a new low in popularity as a result of the budget crisis, it seems a good time to handicap Utah's three congressional races.

Jim Hansen, a Republican, is running for re-election (sort of) in the 1st District against Kenly Brunsdale, a Democrat. Hansen has been in office a long time - 10 years - even though he used to say that members of Congress should not serve more than 8 years. Brunsdale is making a lot of that issue.According to polls, Hansen is running far ahead - so far ahead that it almost seems silly to campaign. So he isn't. Instead he is using the oldest technique known to American politics - he is staying in Washington to do his job!

Hansen proceeds on the theory that Kenly Brunsdale (or is it Kensley Brunsley?) is similar to a fly buzzing around his head. Once in awhile Hansen swats at him a couple of times - but deep inside he knows that flies do no harm. Besides, most people can't seem to get Brunsley's name straight.

For his part, Brunsdale is campaigning like a house afire - working valiantly in the face of overwhelming odds.

MY PREDICTION: Hansen by a landslide, but Brunsdale is a comer. (If we could just remember his NAME!)

In the 2nd District we have Wayne Owens, defending his seat against Genevieve Atwood, a non-Mormon woman. Ordinarily, Owens would be safe on the strength of incumbency, but he is a Democrat, and his kind is never safe in Utah. His district is mostly Republican, and besides, two of his most important groups of supporters are in danger of defection - non-Mormons and women.

But Atwood, who pulled off a small miracle in defeating expected winner Dan Marriott in the primary, is also afflicted with a serious case of "foot-in-mouth disease" and regularly says things that come home to haunt her. The most notable example is her assertion that she is "squishy on the issues," a description that Owens has used to advantage against her. Her most recent is "I'm a President Bush supporter right down to my underwear."

Owens, who, ironically, is a champion of women's issues, uses the slogan, "Nobody's man but ours," which Atwood finds irritating. In debates, Atwood claims Owens is a "party-controlled Democrat. Owens says that he voted with Bush on the budget and that Atwood is "intellectually dishonest" for not admitting it. Inexplicably, Atwood begins every sentence on every issue with the statement, "I'm a geologist . . ."

Owens started with a healthy lead that faded after Atwood won the GOP primary, then increased again when voters saw Atwood in action.

MY PREDICTION: Owens by a hair, with Atwood's future in limbo.

In the 3rd District we have the makings of a Greek tragedy. In a race almost unparalled for its invective, Karl Snow ran against John Harmer to see who was the most conservative Republican and to see whose finances were in the worst shape. Voters decided Harmer's were worse and chose Snow. There were audible sighs of relief all over the district.

Only thing is - come to find out that the Democrat, Bill Orton, has financial problems of his own. Orton, a tax attorney, has twice been the target of the State Tax Commission because of delinquent taxes. In the meantime, Snow continues to receive angry criticism for his bizarre role in a penny stock deal, and he angrily strikes back. Could the 3rd District be cursed?

MY PREDICTION: Snow - not by an avalanche - but comfortably, and Orton's political career is over almost before it began. Scandal aside, it is the most Republican district in the nation.

Gail Sheehy wrote an excellent book called "Character: America's Search for Leadership," in which she concluded that we must always be on guard in elections for character flaws. She warned against the danger of being fooled by "smoothly contrived images projected by highly paid professional media experts who market the candidates like perfumed soap."

Not in Utah. We can see every flaw - and the soap stinks.