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Are you ready for some football? Political football, that is.

The 3rd Congressional District race hasn't really kicked off. But, ready or not, the ball is on the tee.Unlike other congressional candidates in Utah, Republican Dixie Thompson and Democratic Rep. Bill Orton haven't appeared on television ads, radio spots or billboards.

Both candidates say it's too early in the season for a media blitz. Thompson does have her first name plastered on the sides of UTA buses. And she continues to traverse the state in her Oldsmobile. But that's about it.

Thompson will trot out "Team Dixie" Saturday morning in the form of a flier to be passed out to fans entering Cougar Stadium for the BYU-Colorado State game. The "team" is loaded with Republicans such as Gov. Mike Leavitt and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Plays to watch for, according to the flier: sweep right; nickel defense (a five-member, conservative Republican delegation in Washington); statue of liberty and shotgun formation (Thompson opposes gun control).

Thompson also offers a "scouting report" on Orton, whom she likes to link to President Clinton. The flier says Orton's playbook includes fake right, slant left; double reverse; triple option; blocking; and the bomb.

Orton's camp made a short return on Thompson's punt.

"To tie him to Clinton is a real stretch. His voting record is consistent with the wishes of the district," said Jenny Wilson, Orton's campaign manager. "We feel it's unfortunate that she's trying to distort the record."

Orton staffers say they've found other of Thompson's fliers to be "dead wrong" on several issues regarding the incumbent's record.

Orton has no plans to counter Thompson's handbills with his own Saturday. He said he intends to abide by BYU's policy prohibiting campaign literature from being distributed on campus.

Thompson faces serious lack of cash. She figures it will take about $200,000 to win the race. She picked up about $30,000 at a $125-a-plate, fund-raising dinner in Orem Monday. Her campaign is doing whatever it can to stretch those dollars.

"We're being very frugal," Thompson said.

Television ads are in the game plan closer to election day.

Wilson said Orton has "about $100,000" in his campaign account. (Candidates' next financial disclosure statement is due Oct. 15.) A fund-raising birthday party Friday night padded that amount. He'll hit the district hard, including TV commercials, next month.

"We're gearing up," Wilson said.

The race will intensify in mid-October when a series of debates begin. Wilson says Thompson turned down two debates, including one with the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jorge Mena, Thompson's campaign manager, said the debates were scheduled months ago and Thompson can't accommodate all the last-minute requests for joint appearances.

The smell of politics is in the air.