It's 5:30 p.m. on Saturday. By 6 p.m. the candidate must be at the University of Utah for a pre-football game honk-and-wave. She and her supporters will, of course, need something to wave while they stand on the corner. To this end, she's spent the afternoon stapling lawn signs. Now the backseat of her car is full to the windows with them: Karen Crompton for County Commission.

After Labor Day, campaigns always heat up. Each week there are a few more speaking invitations, one fund-raiser, then another. This week Crompton's schedule has been downright hectic.But right now, and for another half-hour, she's taken a detour from the campaign trail. She's hostess for a birthday party for her 8-year-old, Chance.

The diplomacy she's developed in the grown-up world proves valuable with these second-graders, especially at cake-cutting time.

There are 10 guests at the party and only two rubber dinosaurs on the cake. Gently, Crompton repeats, "No I can't give you one; it wouldn't be fair."

Next political pitfall: frosting. Crompton comes up with a way to cut slices of sheetcake so that the edge pieces are equal - in square inches of goo - to the corner pieces. All demands are met. Still she smiles in relief at a child who doesn't care for frosting, who merely wants "a middle piece, no Happy."

What if it were so easy to satisfy every constituent? Naturally, Crompton knows it wouldn't be. She has a realistic picture of politics because she's been active at the grassroots. She also did her homework before she decided to run for this office.

Example: She studied campaign-finance reports from previous campaigns and learned she'd need to raise $200,000. She saw that a large percentage of other candidates' funds had come from a single person or business and she decided for herself what amount she could accept without feeling beholden. (That amount is 5 percent of the total she needs, or $10,000.)

Though party leaders were thrilled when she said she wanted to run, the Democratic Party isn't as rich as the Republican, she says. There are 450,000 voters in her race; that's too many doors to knock on.

Crompton hopes that 35,000 lawn signs will get her name out. She hopes that her goals - a complete review of zoning ordinances and all new subdivisions to have open-space requirements - will catch on as well.

Now it's Thursday, noon. At the senior citizens' meet-the-candidate lunch, there are almost as many candidates as seniors. Crompton gets three minutes to speak. She tells them Utah is her home; that she was chosen as a Hinckly Institute intern in 1972 and worked in Washington for Frank Moss; that she was in management for Sears for 18 years before she married her husband. She says the past eight years, since she became a mom, have been the most wonderful.

While serving on the Emigration Canyon Community Council, she explains, she decided to run for County Commission. She sensed such frustration among citizens and too much personal animosity shaping county policy, Crompton says.

The seniors asked all candidates to respond to a question. Crompton does, succinctly. Before we vote to change the form of county government, we have to ask ourselves what it is we don't like about it now, she advises. "Will the new form be more representative? More efficient?"

Here's what she doesn't have time to tell them. The township battle, in which Emigration Canyon met the supermajority test only to have township taken away by the next Legislature, taught her that the people must persevere.

Working with Rep. Mel Brown, R-Midvale, on compromise legislation taught her it is impossible to hate your political opponents once you know them. (She found him warm and intelligent.)

Crompton was at the University of Utah in the late 1960s. How could she not care passionately about politics when students all over the country were protesting the Vietnam War, when students like her at Kent State were shot down by National Guardsmen who were also her age?

She majored in political science, went to graduate school in journalism. In college, Karen Gute met David Crompton. She loved him instantly. It was "magic," she recalls, blushing. Still, 20 years went by before they married. It seems they were always in different places, emotionally or geographically.

He opened a restaurant in Emigration Canyon. Her career with Sears took her out of state. Some years they were in touch. Some years they weren't.

When they came back together and decided to marry, Karen Crompton gave up her job. She didn't think a long-distance marriage would work. David still sounds in awe of her resolve. "I don't think she's ever looked back.'

Her neighbor, Craig Smay, agrees. Karen knows what she wants. And she knows how to organize. She led the township drive and gave all the neighbors in the canyon a firmer grip on their own future, Smay says.

After she married, she helped her husband run his restaurant. To the children, it was a second home. They loved to come to Crompton's early on Saturday morning and cook themselves a pancake.

But it was David's place first, and she supported his decision to close Crompton's. It was getting hard to find help, and he worked too many hours, he says. Having worked and invested wisely, the couple could afford to retire.

Now the children play at the fringes of the campaign, the way they played at the restaurant. Now hers are the long days and he gets the children off to school and, when she's not home, tucks them in at night.

Hart, 5, misses her most at bedtime, Crompton says. But the campaign won't last forever, David adds. Meanwhile, they're raising the boys the way they were raised. He says, "We were taught to give something back to the community."