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THE FOLLOWING editorial appeared Saturday, Feb. 22...


THE FOLLOWING editorial appeared Saturday, Feb. 22 in the New York Times:

Voters in the New Hampshire primary election seemed determined to repeal two long-valid laws of presidential politics.

Democrats challenged Lippman's Law, named for one of its prominent promulgators, Theo Lippman Jr. of The Baltimore Sun. It holds that:

The parties usually nominate for president only people who have been plausible candidates in prior campaigns.

Of the last 28 nominees, only four did not conform: Wendell Willkie in 1940, Michael Dukakis in 1988 and both Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in 1976. Otherwise the law holds, embodying a common sense insight. That is, the public does not confer its trust on candidates lightly; demonstrating presidential timber takes time.

Under Lippman's Law, however, only one of the five Democrats could be regarded as a likely nominee -- Jerry Brown, the former California governor. He gave Jimmy Carter a late scare in 1976. But he ran a poor fifth in New Hampshire. Paul Tsongas, the winner, has never run before, and the closest that Gov. Bill Clinton, number two, has come was his famously windy 1988 seconding speech for Michael Dukakis.

Lippman's Law thus implies that this year the Democrats will be unable to settle on any nominee.

Meanwhile, the Republicans may face similar danger of decapitation, considering how the New Hampshire result looked in the light of Chotiner's Law. It is named after the late Murray Chotiner, long a tough political adviser to Richard Nixon. It holds that:

If an incumbent is seriously challenged in the primary campaign, the wounds can't heal by November and he will lose.

Exceptions have arisen to this law, too. But it certainly applied in 1976, when Ronald Reagan's challenge ate into President Ford's standing and Jimmy Carter won the general election. And it applied again in 1980, when Edward Kennedy's challenge left Mr. Carter more vulnerable to Mr. Reagan's onslaught.

Will the 1992 New Hampshire result ratify Chotiner's Law anew? Patrick Buchanan ended up further behind President Bush than first appeared. Even so, his 37 percent ain't beanbag. It can be imagined that the primary campaign could sling so much ugly mud that some will stick to Mr. Bush through the fall campaign.

Taken together, Lippman's Law and Chotiner's Law this yeasuggest the possibility that no one will be elected president. But surely that's impossible; there oughta be a law, and there is. It was formulated some years ago by Richard Goodwin, the one-time Kennedy adviser:

In politics, there are no laws.

...* * * WILL Rogers had it right. Said he: "Everything is funny as long as is happening to someone else."

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