Tuscaloosa News (Alabama) July 27, 1997

"Sure Bets" ("Southern Exposure" section)

By Sean Loughlin, New York Times Regional Newspaper Group

How's this for early election returns? More than a year before the November 1998 elections, one non-partisan, voter advocacy group is already projecting winners, arguing that the vast majority of races won't even be competitive.

In "Monopoly Politics," the Center for Voting and Democracy picks winners in 360 House races, predicting that 238 of those races will result in landslide margins of 20 percent or more.

In its compelling analysis, the center argues that barring a dramatic event, such as a depression or war, demographics and voting patterns determine whether a district is likely to swing Democratic or Republican in 1998. Center director Rob Richie said that the role of campaign money is exaggerated, while a district's political makeup -- as determined by past House elections and its preference for president -- is often understated.

Richie points out that in the battles over drawing new district lines, lawmakers are basically picking out the voters "before the constituents choose them."

Said Richie: "Demography is destiny."

In Alabama, the center predicts landslide wins for incumbents Sonny Callahan, Terry Everett and Spencer Bachus, all Republicans, and Earl Hilliard, a Democrat.

The three other incumbents are also picked as winners, but Democrat Bud Cramer, the state's sole white Democrat, is listed as vulnerable.