Democrat Jim McConkie says national party leaders thought he had a good shot of unseating Rep. Enid Waldholtz, R-Utah, even before all her financial troubles came to light.

"Now they're excited," he said this week after meeting with leaders of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee - the arm of the national party that helps raise funds for House candidates.McConkie - who has been organizing a campaign against Waldholtz for about five months - said he had arranged the trip weeks before her troubles came to light, but he acknowledges the timing helped him find extra interest among his party's leaders.

"They see it as a real opportunity," McConkie said.

State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Zuhl, who accompanied McConkie, said DCCC officials noted that Democrats have controlled the 2nd District for eight of the past 10 years - and felt freshman Waldholtz was vulnerable because of her policy stands and because she won with less than 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race in 1994.

"They see it as a top-tier race for them," Zuhl said. "It was on the radar screen for them before the current problems."

McConkie said Waldholtz "has been following a national agenda, not a state agenda. She has been voting in the high 90 percent range with Newt Gingrich. Education has been getting short shrift, and the environment has been over-looked."

He said he would also like to see Medicare and Medicaid reformed more slowly than House Republicans are pushing for, "so that it brings some balance and compassion."

McConkie describes himself as a moderate and for five years was chief of staff to former Rep. Gunn McKay, D-Utah.

McConkie has been a federal prosecutor in Utah and a private-practice attorney. He ran for the House in 1978 - when he failed to emerge from a party convention when trying to face former Rep. Dan Marriott, R-Utah.

He also ran for attorney general in 1980 - originally aiming to unseat incumbent Robert Hansen, who had political trouble that year. But Republicans instead nominated David Wilkinson, who won the race.

McConkie said the party asked him months ago to consider running against Waldholtz, which he has been working to do. However, he said he would step aside if former Rep. Karen Shepherd, D-Utah, wants another rematch with Waldholtz - or any other Republican who might win the nomination instead of her.

"We need to coalesce as a party," he said, adding that a convention or primary battle likely would not help Democrats' chances.

While Shepherd said she is seriously considering the race because of the many requests she received after Waldholtz's problems became news, she has yet to decide if she will - and has not yet organized a campaign.

McConkie said he plans to spend several more days in Washington meeting with such other leaders as Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and DCCC Chairman Martin Frost, D-Texas.