PROVO — Some borrow a convertible. Others just slap a campaign sign on the side of the family Suburban. A few lucky ones ride on a real parade float.

Whatever the mode of transportation, candidates for political office this time of year appear in small-town parades about as frequently as clowns and marching bands.

If there's a crowd with nothing to do but sit and watch the stream of performers go by, you can bet there will be candidates with plastic smiles taking advantage of the opportunity for name recognition.

"I haven't been in a parade since I was in high school marching band," said Jim Ferrin, an Orem businessman running for the Republican nomination for an open state House seat.

Ferrin recently coaxed his pregnant wife and children to accompany him in an evening parade at Orem's Summerfest. The family's Suburban provided the wheels, but Ferrin walked the route greeting people. A week later, they repeated the drill at Pleasant Grove's Strawberry Days.

Ferrin and opponent Mark Bowman are vying for the GOP nomination in House District 58, where Rep. Marlon Snow is not seeking re-election. Relative newcomers unknown to voters, Ferrin and Bowman need every chance they can get to see and be seen. Both agree parades are not optional.

"It's for exposure," Ferrin said. "Most folks don't know Mark Bowman or Jim Ferrin, and in a small race like this we're not on the news every night.

"I don't know how many votes it will bring in, but I pretty much have to be in the parade because Mark is. He has to because I'm doing it."

Incumbent politicians have long been parade fixtures. But with a primary election looming, this month's parades are especially important for challengers. Lehi resident John Schmeltzer wants to be in the Lehi Roundup Parade this Saturday but has not been able to gain permission. He sees it as a chance to gain ground on state Rep. David Cox, who also covets a parade appearance. Local parade organizers are not being cooperative, however. The election is just three days later.

Sometimes, parades can help a campaign with a candidate's inner circle. Provo City Councilman Stan Lockhart, for example, recalls the day last fall he told his children he had decided to run for office. Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, already was serving in the Legislature, making time at home difficult to come by.

The children were less than thrilled about having another parent who would be gone from home a lot, but then Stan Lockhart told them if he were elected to the City Council the family would be able to ride in a convertible in Provo's Freedom Festival parade on July 4.

"Suddenly, it was, 'No problem, Dad. We're with you.' "

This year, a political rivalry spilled onto Utah County's streets when competing floats from the Democrats and Republicans entered most of the same parades. The resurgent Utah County Democrats surprised a lot of people last year with a float featuring "Rosie the Riveter."

This year, people aren't quite so surprised to see the Democrats' new float, which is in the form of a ship.

"The difference between last year and this year has been noticeable for us," said Nancy Jane Woodside, Utah County's Democratic Party chairwoman. "The reception has been very exciting. Last year they ridiculed us, like, 'Here come the two Democrats.' "

The Democrats bought a $1,200 car, tore it down to the frame and spent thousands of hours welding, building and decorating, Woodside said. Fortunately for them, the Democrats have the talent of carpenters and welders on which to draw. Materials and labor were donated.

The Democrats' float was such a hit it caused Utah County Republicans to refurbish a float that had been created in 1996 for U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon to ride on during his successful candidacy to unseat then-incumbent Bill Orton.

Stan Lockhart, also the Utah County GOP chairman, downplays the effectiveness of parades but not their worth.

"I'm not convinced it's a huge thing, but I'm not convinced it's not," he said. "It's a lot of fun."