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Here are thumbnail sketches of the major party candidates, including their experience and thoughts about the issues most important to them. In addition, The News asked eachcandidate therse two questions.

Are Newt Gingrich and the Republicans leading the country in the right direction?

Should there be any government recourse for people who lose benefits under welfare reform?

Bill Paxon, 42 (R,C,T,F)

Experience: Congressman since 1989, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee; Assemblyman, 1983-1988; Erie County legislator, 1977-1983.

Issues: Advocates less government intrusion at all levels, especially the marketplace; also a major proponent of tax cuts and reducing unnecessary regulation.

Newt Gingrich: "Look at the record of common sense accomplishment: welfare reform, illegal immigration reform, a line-item veto, common sense health-care reforms that allow you to take your health care with you when you change or lose your job, congressional reforms that cut committee staff by one-third and hold members of Congress accountable to the same laws as all Americans, telecommunications reform, a market-oriented farm bill, and $53 billion in reduced federal spending over the last two years. I think most Americans would agree that these changes move America in the right direction."

Welfare benefits: "Like most Americans, I believe able-bodied welfare recipients should work, and under the Republican welfare bill signed into law, they will. Our welfare reform bill includes increased child-care funding so those with children can go to work. Let's face it, work experience is the only way for welfare recipients to gain independence and break the welfare cycle. It's fair both to the welfare recipients who are able to work and to the taxpayers who pay the bills."

Thomas M. Fricano, 56, (D, S)

Experience: Various United Auto Workers positions culminating in regional director; several community and charity activities, including 1996 honorary chairman of the Variety Club Telethon; long active in Democratic politics.

Issues: Advocates protecting the Medicare system by vowing to never allow cuts; promises to overhaul welfare to make sure people get a "hand up, not hand out;" also promises that tax relief will be directed toward the middle class.

Newt Gingrich: "Absolutely not. With Newt Gingrich at the helm of this Congress, all the progress we've made in providing for our seniors, educating our children, saving our environment, and reducing crime is under attack. Shutting down the government was wrong, the Contract on America was wrong, and Newt Gingrich is wrong."

Welfare benefits: "Yes. While welfare reform is necessary and long overdue, the federal government still has the responsibility to ensure that children do not become the scapegoats of irresponsible parents. A safety net must be in place to protect children whose parents lose benefits."

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