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Doug Owens has now obtained what he lacked at the beginning of his first race against Utah Rep. Mia Love — credibility.

Gone are the struggles to prove he is a viable challenger, capable of giving Love a tough race in the conservative 4th Congressional District. His workmanlike performance in 2014, resulting in a defeat by a little more than 5 percentage points, showed he could be competitive.

So as he starts his 2016 rematch, Owens has found it easier to raise money and gain the attention of party leaders in Washington.

By the end of September, Owens raised $322,700, more than he has in any previous three month period. He had $284,700 in the bank. In his first campaign, Owens' raised a total of just $866,600.

"We know that Doug is a great candidate with a strong tradition of service to his community, and his robust fundraising shows that he will also have the resources needed to win in this competitive district," said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Just how competitive the district is has yet to be seen. Political handicappers with the Cook Political Report rate it as "likely Republican" and Love will have the advantage as the incumbent.

Owens will spend the next week at the DCCC, mixing with other top congressional challengers to meet potential donors and brush up on some campaign tactics. Most of the DCCC's focus is on districts won by President Barack Obama but represented by Republicans, or districts where Obama narrowly lost. That's not the case here, where Republican Mitt Romney demolished the president throughout Utah.

Still Lujan has reached out to Owens, sent a fundraising email on his behalf and mentioned him during a C-SPAN appearance.

This is a huge shift from his first run, when the DCCC sat on its hands until the final days of his race, when polls showed him within striking distance.

At that time, he received a $5,000 check from the DCCC. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 13 other Democrats contributed another $31,000. The money helped him pay for ads he already intended to air. At the time, he said the contributions were a sign the party thought he could win, and yet privately he was left to wonder whether, if the party had done more earlier, it would have made a difference.

The Owens campaign fully expects to receive the support of sitting House Democrats and the DCCC, offering a significant boost to his effort to close the fundraising gap with Love.

She held a $4 million fundraising advantage in 2014, largely from small donations from people nationwide responding to mailers noting her historic status. Love is the first black Republican woman elected to the U.S. House.

Love's campaign has been regularly releasing fundraising totals early, but declined to do so this quarter. The reports are officially due Thursday evening.

"We feel comfortable with where she is going to be," said Dave Hansen, Love's campaign strategist. "We met our goals. That is the important thing."

Love held a fundraising lunch Wednesday at Salt Lake City's Alta Club attended by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. Love pushed Gowdy to run for House Majority Leader, and others have called on him to throw his hat into the speaker's race. Gowdy has declined, saying he'll stay as chairman of a select committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.

As a freshman House member, Love has kept a relatively low profile, focusing on getting up to speed on issues before the House Financial Services Committee, and sponsoring a bill creating a task force to examine ways to reduce the cost of higher education.

Love also made a misstep. She used her official House account to pay for her flight to attend the White House Correspondents Dinner, D.C.'s most glamorous party. She said she'd pay the roughly $1,000 back, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, and said she had cleared the trip with the appropriate House committees, though her spokesman Rich Piatt later retracted that statement as inaccurate.

Utah Democrats criticized Love for being a "celebrity," and Owens' team sent a fundraising email focused on the dust up.

Owens and the Democrats will try to keep pressure on Love, but unlike the 2014 campaign, Love's team has made it clear that they plan to return fire.

That's not likely to take place until next spring. In the meantime, each candidate will continue to stockpile money.