The partisan chanting and cheering in the crowded room decked out with red, white and balloons belied the month on the calendar.

"Chris, Chris, Chris."The scene was reminiscent of November, not January. But 1998 is an election year, after all. And Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, wasted no time letting it be known Monday that he's running again in the 3rd Congressional District.

"It's nice to be announced as a congressman instead of just a candidate," said Cannon, who spent $1.7 million to secure that title two years ago.

Running as an incumbent this time around should give the first-term representative a decided advantage over his heretofore unidentified Democratic opponent.

Democrats haven't had to hunt for a candidate the past three elections with Bill Orton holding down the seat. Cannon's narrow win in 1996 has Utah's minority party calling out the search dogs. One promising candidate, popular singer/composer Kurt Bestor, momentarily fiddled with the idea before deciding not to run late last year.

Todd Taylor, Utah Democratic Party executive director, said the party "undoubtedly" will put up a candidate to challenge Cannon. He said the Democrats have three or four prospects but declined to name them. Taylor might have to look no further than Cannon's predecessor.

"We, quite frankly, would like to see Bill run again," he said, adding that Orton defeats Cannon in recent party polls. "There's definitely some buyer's remorse going on."

Naturally, there wasn't a hint of regret among the people, including state and local GOP leaders, crammed into a meeting room at the Historic Utah County Courthouse Monday for Cannon's "pre-victory 1998 celebration" in the words of his 1996 campaign manager Mike Mower.

Cannon, 47, himself hasn't claimed victory as yet, but he did concede that "it's a lot harder to defeat an incumbent than it is to defend a seat." Freshman members of Congress, however, are typically more vulnerable than multi-term incumbents.

Cannon fully expects the Democrats to challenge him. But he doesn't plan on emptying his wallet to retain his post.

Jeff Hartley, Cannon's press secretary, said the congressman's 1998 and 1996 campaigns will be "polar opposites" in terms of spending. Cannon spent $1.5 million of his own money two years ago.

Hartley promises a lean campaign with little or no television advertising and limited radio spots and flyers. Cannon raised about $200,000 in 1997 and has $50,000 cash on hand, he said. Cannon will count on nickel-and-dime contributions from rank-and-file constituents to fuel his war chest.

"I am going to run a vigorous, grass-roots campaign," he said while soliciting donations and volunteers during his re-election announcement.

Republicans generally think that Cannon will own the conservative 3rd Congressional District as long as he wants to. Cannon, an advocate of term limits, hasn't put one on himself.

"I've refused to limit it to any particular number," he said. "I don't expect to be here forever."

Cannon, whose wife, Claudia, is pregnant with the couple's eighth child, said commuting between Washington, D.C., and his Mapleton home is hard on his family.

Taylor said Democrats are by no means conceding the 3rd District, and believe Cannon is beatable. The party doesn't plan to make any candidate announcements until after January. The filing deadline is March 17.