Sue Mills has been spending time in bowling alleys and shopping centers, breaking only to go to the hairdresser. Tom O'Reilly has left most of the campaigning to "my wife, my family, my sister and my mom." Steny Hoyer has been smiling a lot and racing from one press conference to another all over the district and Larry Hogan Jr., the youngest candidate, has been spending hours at a time studying up on the issues.

These are the daily workings of the frenetic race to fill Gladys Spellman's congressional seat, a race so crowded and so quick that the object of each campaign committee is simply and only to make sure that its candidate becomes better known than any other in the next 16 days before the Democratic and Republican primaries.

Beside this goal, all else becomes minor, even the campaign issues.

"What we have to do," said Stu Piper, campaign manager for Republican Audrey Scott, "is to get the candidate known."

To this end, the 31 primary candidates have pursued strategies that get them to as many regular primary voters -- about 25,000 Democrats and 8,000 Republicans -- as they possibly can in just three weeks through techniques such as targeted mailings and telephone banks that leave little for the candidates to do.

"The essence of the campaign is time and money," said Fred Allen, the campaign consultant for Republican Larry Hogan Jr. "You raise and spend as much as you can and use your time more effectively than anyone else. You get your candidate out there (by occasional door-knocking and attending candidates' nights) so that everybody can see he's not a clone."

Because the race is so quick, there is little time for anything but planning, wooing of endorsements and volunteers and fundraising, the kind of stuff that normally precedes the opening of a congressional campaign.

"It's all condensed," said Democrat Mills. "You do everything, I mean everything you would do in a normal campaign, but you do it all in a few days. The adrenalin doesn't ever have a chance to drop."

But while the various campaign headquarters have been overwhelmed with putting together telephone banks, brochures and mailing lists, the candidates themselves, in this first official week of the 5th Congressional race, have frantically scrounged around for any event that attracts more than a dozen people and that might get them on television -- often with little luck.

So far there has been only a handful of events, mostly small coffees, fundraisers or press conferences by the various candidates, which have received minimal or no coverage. At the three candidates' nights scheduled so far, few voters have attended and the congressional hopefuls and their campaign staffs have in some cases been left talking among themselves.

"What can you do?" said Gladys Spellman's husband Reuben, a candidate in the Democratic primary, when asked how one conducts a three-week campaign. "You just squirm."

The problem has been that despite the publicity about Gladys Spellman's illness -- she has been in a "sleeplike" state since suffering heart failure October 31 -- and the decision last month to vacate her Prince George's County seat and call a special election, there is surprisingly little awareness that a congressional race is on.

"It's just really in the last two days that people are learning that things are going on and calling us about bull roasts, dinners and those kinds of events that you can send a candidate to," said Hoyer aide John Moag.

So what have the candidates being doing since the official filing deadline last week?

Some, like State Sen. Edward Conroy, are just now getting around to finding their campaign headquarters. "I'm going to open a small office in the Belair Shopping Center and I'm going to have a multitude of volunteers out working," Conroy said. Until the multitude appears, however, he'll be hoping that his name recognition from his unsuccessful U.S. Senate race last fall will get him through the current contest.

Others, like County Council member Sue Jmills, are simply hitting spots where they are sure to find a lot of people. "We've made a list of 16 shopping centers and 12 bowling alleys and we're going through it," she said. Hoyer has been sent to "wherever there's a good amount of people to meet and shake hands with," Moag said.

Audrey Scott and Hogan Jr., the two major Republican candidates, have taken a slightly different approach because of the small number of Republicans -- Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3-to-1 -- in Prince George's County. As a result, both have avoided shopping centers and other public gathering places, where the odds are that they'll meet Democrats instead of Republicans who can vote in the party primary on April 7.

"We can hit exactly who we want to hit with mail and phone so there's no sense wasting time or money (at shopping centers)," said Hogan campaign manager Allen.

And then there are some of the less well-known candidates, like perennial contender Richard E. Lee. He's come to a few meetings and candidates' nights but done little else. But, as he told one audience, he figures he's got little to lose. "People always tell me, 'Richard E. Lee, you'll never get elected to anything,' and so far they've been right."