No sooner is the legislative session over than we're thrown into the 1998 election season.

It hardly seems fair.Yet the quickened schedule results from party leaders' desires to have a June primary election. And if you move backward from the third Tuesday in June primary date - a monthlong primary season, May state political conventions, April county conventions - you get to a March 17 candidate filing deadline. And that falls quickly after lawmakers adjourn in the first week of March.

Anyway, whining aside, legislators and journalists have only a week or so to rest up before a new phase of politics begins - campaigns.

This campaign season looks to be rather boring.

As this column is written Thursday morning, Democrats have yet to announce a candidate to run against Rep. Chris Cannon in the 3rd Congressional District.

What a switch there. It used to be that Republicans had a difficult time finding a well-funded, articulate candidate to run against former Democratic Rep. Bill Orton in the district. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett appears very safe. Democrats hunted high and low for someone with some clout - and maybe some cash - to challenge Bennett in 1998.

In the end, former state Senate candidate Scott Leckman stepped forward. Leckman says he will run a nontraditional campaign. Read that to mean he won't have much money to challenge Bennett, a millionaire who spent $2 million of his own money on his 1992 race.

Bennett has already said he'll serve 12 years in the Senate and retire. So this should be his last U.S. Senate race.

Investment counselor Steve Beierlein is the Democrat going after Rep. Jim Hansen in the 1st District. Hansen, who unseated the Democratic incumbent in 1980, has already served longer in the U.S. House than any other representative from Utah.

While Beierlein has raised more money than Hansen so far, Hansen is well entrenched. Hansen has had a few close re-elections in the past. But Utah's economy is good, Hill Air Force Base seems relatively safe and in the mid-1990s Hansen coasted to easy victories.

The 2nd District may light what political fires are available this year.

Freshman Rep. Merrill Cook - in office after 10 years of running and losing various campaigns - is being challenged by former Utah Education Association president Lily Eskelsen.

Eskelsen is a vivacious, folk-singing advocate for children, a go-getter who has managed to keep all other Democratic candidates out of the running. So, unlike 1996, there won't be an ugly Democratic convention or primary battle in this race.

But Cook is well-known to Salt Lake County residents. He's a scrapper who prides himself on an independent streak. Cook hasn't rocked the boat, as some figured he would. And except for some inopportune remarks about how House Speaker Newt Gingrich probably couldn't be re-elected speaker in 1999 (words he tried to eat as best he could), Cook hasn't made any major missteps his first two years in Congress.

That's a bit of a surprise to some, a disappointment to Democrats.

Hansen and Bennett have only token GOP opposition in their races. And while some other Republicans and Democrats could come forward before the candidate filing deadline at 5 p.m. next Tuesday, it appears that there will not be primary contests in the U.S. Senate and three U.S. House races.

That means things should be rather calm until the end of summer, when some of the money Eskelsen and Beierlein have raised can be put to some use against the incumbents.

Calm, that is, unless some scandal arises or a county commission race or two heats up.

In any case, early in the 1998 elections the landscape seems lacking in color. Perhaps Cook, Eskelsen, Hansen and Beierlein can stir up some excitement. Time will tell.