Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, may have just begun his fourth congressional term, but he's already thinking about next year's race for his 3rd District congressional seat.

He's not alone.With the filing date for Nielson's seat still a year away, voters may feel it's a bit premature to think about the election. But despite what politicians might say publicly, they know much of the race to raise funds and mount a campaign will be run well before the filing deadline.

According to a sampling of some potential candidates, Nielson likely would face few challengers if he seeks a fifth term. But if he steps down, voters likely can expect to see a political fray similar to the 1982 race that featured eight hopefuls for the then-new district seat.

Nielson stands to receive healthy federal retirement benefits by serving through 1992, when his district will be reapportioned. His decision, however, won't be based on money.

Nielson said it takes two or three congressional terms "to come into your own." Because of his membership on several important House committees and subcommittees, Nielson said, he feels he is just reaching the pinnacle of his effectiveness as a congressman.

"I do think I've developed expertise that is important to the state," he said. "And I think I'm well situated as far as committee assignments go."

Nevertheless, he said he longs for more time with his family and in the service of his church, and he is discouraged with liberal policies that keep the country mired in red ink. Nielson said his decision is still a few months away, but that he has received a lot of pressure to seek re-election.