Is there a Democrat in the House? Not from Utah's 3rd Congressional District, there isn't. Nor will there be next term, as the state's "opposition" party drops a notch in credibility and influence by not fielding a candidate to face Rep. Chris Cannon.

It's a sad state of affairs that reiterates the notion Utah's two-party system began withering in earnest with Ted Wilson's gubernatorial defeat in 1988. The downhill slide seems to have continued ever since, a decline unhealthy for governance.Utah, like the nation at-large, needs two parties to provide choice, healthy debate and a certain check and balance.

The glaring 3rd-District void in November's Demo ticket follows party efforts to bolster the number of legitimate state legislative candidates. This fall's field of candidates is said to be the "strongest ever" by state Democratic leadership. It is in terms of voters having a choice, though "strongest" is a relative term.

In 1996, there was no Democratic candidate in 33 of 89 legislative races. The number of abdicated races has been lowered, thankfully. But the minority party has much ground to make up on Utah's Capitol Hill. It holds less than one-third of all House seats and only nine of 29 seats in the Senate. Greater strength is needed to provide some sense of counterbalance to the overwhelming Republican majority.

But don't look for much meaningful opposition soon. The state of the Democratic party is as anemic as anytime in memory. Conceding to Cannon without any kind of a fight is evidence of that.

Anyone opposing the incumbent and his deep pockets would have been underdog with a capital "U," but the party is responsible to provide even token opposition to fill out its ticket and balance the ballot. Scrambling to meet the filing deadline is, after all, nothing new for Utah Democrats. They waited until the eleventh hour before Pat Shea jumped in to face Sen. Orrin Hatch in 1994, and offered up former Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley in the 1996 gubernatorial race.

Not doing so this year in Utah's 3rd Congressional District is a strike against democracy and a step backward in attempts to restore party legitimacy.