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FORGET ALL THE HOOPLA ABOUT PAXON; ELECTIONS ARE ABOUT DEMOGRAPHICS

A bunch of cold-eyed political scientists are predicting that House Republicans will edge through the 1998 elections with about the same margin they have now -- 10 votes.

The sordid backroom rodeo that unhorsed Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, will have only a slight effect on the election nationwide.

The purported unpopularity of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., if indeed he is still speaker 14 months from now, will have no more influence than it did in 1996.

The Western New York congressional delegation will like this report, especially Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, always an underdog.

All four members are listed as winners. Quinn, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy report, is not among the three "vulnerable" incumbents.

Quinn, in fact, is a highly notable exception to the "rules" propounded in the study. More on that later.

What drives congressional elections mostly, says the center, is demographics -- the mix of people who happen to live in a congressional district and the perceptions of what their member is willing to do.

Are they rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, blue collar, professional, well educated? Data that your favorite church group sells to telemarketers.

Demographics, the center says, virtually rule congressional elections, making them very predictable.

In terms of fund-raising, this means the chicken came before the egg. Fund-raising doesn't determine the outcome of elections anymore, the study suggests. It is the other way around.

Sure winners, those incumbents holding electoral "monopolies," the report maintains, are money magnets.

Four of these barons are New Yorkers, including a Democratic challenger to Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato.

The center measures what I call this "new peerage" by the percentage of money they raise from out-of-district special interests, such as corporate, labor or single-interest political action committees.

Rep. John McHugh, R-Watertown, got 88.3 percent of his money last time from such sources. House Rules Chairman Gerald Solomon, R-Glens Falls, had an 83 percent rate; Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York City, who wields clout writing federal tax breaks, 83.6 percent; and Rep. Charles Schumer, D-Brooklyn, 85.5 percent.

Schumer has raised more money from out-of-district sources -- $2.5 million -- than any other incumbent in America. Schumer's special-interest treasure chest will help bankroll his challenge to D'Amato.

Twenty out of the top 25 incumbents in this category are Democrats.

This helps explain why the core proposal to reform campaign finances is unlikely to go anywhere -- unless the president and all the leaders of Congress are discovered to have sold nuclear secrets, and their children as well, to Saddam Hussein.

Neither party's incumbents want any part of the reform, which would include the donation or sale at cut-rate prices of television time for campaigning. Free or low-cost TV advertising would level the playing field in campaigning.

The TV proposal would undermine these congressional baronies as surely as the wartime taxes threw much of Britain's nobility into genteel poverty.

The three vulnerable New York seats are held by Rep. Michael Forbes, R-Shirley, L.I.; Rep. Peter King, R-Massapequa Park, L.I., and Rep. Susan Molinari, R-Staten Island. Resigning to go into the anchorwoman business next Thursday, Molinari leaves an open seat.

Jack Quinn proved the exception to the demographic rule by reshaping what his constituents expected of their representative and making the Republican leadership live with his voting patterns.

Among Republicans, Quinn ranked second in the nation for polling well, at 55 percent, in a district carried by Democratic President Clinton at 57 percent. Quinn's secret of survival is found in his liberal record on economics. His was the most liberal for all the Republicans who survived in a district Clinton carried.

Finally a last word -- for the moment -- on Paxon's debacle.

Ten days ago, even after he had resigned, under heavy pressure, as chairman of leadership, Paxon was still in a strong position to be considered among those who could be elected by House members to succeed Gingrich if the speaker were dumped quickly.

However, that came apart over the weekend of July 19-21, when a handful of extreme right anti-Gingrich conspirators declared that Paxon was still their man.

These comments, plus Paxon's oblique reference on televison to an impending shake-up after the 1998 election, disenchanted, even frightened the House GOP moderates for whom Paxon had appeared to be a viable bridge to the right wing.

Few of the 40 to 60 moderates, who were ready to briefly embrace Paxon two weeks ago, would vote for him now. His comments, and those of his most militant supporters on the right, have made him currently unelectable to a high leadership post.

The center, however, forecast Paxon would be a "comfortable" winner in his own congressional race in 1998.

The center's study has pretty good credentials. Among its backers were the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Stewart Mott Charitable Trust.

News Washington Bureau

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