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Television has scoured Washington's ivory towers over the past few days to produce a pundit parade of analysts, scholars and think tank professors to explain the 2004 election.

Maybe the cameras should concentrate on Union Road or George Urban Boulevard. Because, once again, Cheektowaga proved its special knack for pointing the way in a heated election.

Just ask Democrat Brian Higgins. He declared victory in his congressional campaign early Wednesday morning after beating Republican Nancy Naples there by a 19,234 to 16,764 margin. It's where both he and Naples concentrated their attention in the final days of their heated campaign. It's where both campaigns established their headquarters. And it was to Cheektowaga that Naples brought Gov. George Pataki and Higgins imported Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to stump for votes that counted.

"They're very independent voters out here," said Paul Tokasz, who has long represented the area in the Assembly. "It's that kind of independent voter that people running for countywide office, or a congressional seat, or even statewide office have to pay attention to."

Since 1942, Cheektowaga has failed only once to mirror Erie County's vote in a gubernatorial election. That occurred in 1982, when Erie County went with Democrat Mario Cuomo and the town barely supported Republican Lewis Lehrman in an aberration that experts say stemmed from Cuomo's refusal to support the death penalty.

In those same six decades, the town failed only twice as a bellwether for the entire state: the 1982 contest and in 1970 -- the only time it ever failed badly -- when the state went with incumbent Republican Nelson Rockefeller and the town voted overwhelmingly for Democrat Arthur Goldberg.

It's why Naples concentrated on Cheektowaga, knowing she beat Higgins for county comptroller there in 1993 and knowing Cheektowagans would heed her reputation for fiscal conservatism.

It was worth Naples' effort. And her narrow loss there reflected her narrow loss across the district.

So much revolves around Cheektowaga's role that Jeff Hammond, spokesman for County Executive Joel Giambra, may have hit on something a few days ago when he blamed the Yankees' loss to the Red Sox on Cheektowaga.

A few other observations, tidbits and loose ends from one of the most fascinating political seasons in memory:

Erie County Democratic Chairman Len Lenihan's early support for Higgins continues to cement his position in the party. Higgins' 4,000 vote plurality was nowhere near the district's Democratic advantage of 73,000 voters, but enough to notch a win against a first-class opponent.

The Clinton Connection to the Quinn seat continues. Former President Bill Clinton jumped into the fray at campaign's end by recording a pro-Higgins phone message relayed to thousands of area voters. Some jaded observers might hint the move results from Quinn's 1998 impeachment vote against the congressman's former pal, and jabbed at Quinn's major efforts on Naples' behalf -- but the Politics Column refrains from jaded observations.

In a sure sign that political campaigns begin revving up on the day after election, it should be noted that Tokasz and Mayor Tony Masiello will sponsor a fund raiser later this month for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Sources say the affair is all very low key, but there's no doubt it will be noticed in any official "Chuck Schumer for Governor" lairs around New York State.

The University at Buffalo's Professor Jim Campbell should consider trading in his mortarboard for a bookie visor. The political scientist's presidential prognostication formula correctly predicted a Bush win, marking more success for a prediction method based largely on economic indicators and polls that has correctly forecast the popular vote in every contest since 1948.