Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart's problems are certainly not hurting Ford's Theatre and its production of "Elmer Gantry," which opened Saturday. On Tuesday, Ford's had the best advance-sale day in its history -- $26,727. The new musical version of the Sinclair Lewis tale of a Depression-era charlatan evangelist has received smash reviews, but theater officials say Swaggart's public confession and temporary resignation from his electronic pulpit also have helped ticket sales.

Washington actor Casey Biggs, who plays the title role in the show, which runs through May, said yesterday that since the Swaggart scandal broke he has noticed that members of the audience smile knowingly when he sings: "When I say Hell, I know it well; It's a place where I used to dwell," and then sings of what he's known -- "painted women with silken skin ..." Biggs, a Juilliard graduate who has starred in several Arena Stage productions, including "All the King's Men" last year, said "Elmer Gantry" is expected to go on to Broadway after its Washington run.

Out and About

Shock-rocker Alice Cooper says he may run for political office in his home state of Arizona, and why not? He's had some contact with politicians. He claims to have bought his first car a number of years ago from impeached Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham, who used to run a Pontiac dealership. Cooper, born Vincent Furnier, is a minister's son who won fame for his outrageous makeup and performances. "I'm definitely a write-in candidate," the Phoenix-born singer, who is on a yearlong comeback tour, told an audience in his home town Saturday. "Hey, I'm a native. I'm a registered voter. I represent the Wild Party and I even have campaign slogan: 'Alice Cooper -- a troubled man for troubled times' " ...

Hell hath no fury: Canadian model Carrie Leigh yesterday increased her palimony suit against Hugh Hefner from $5 million to $35 million, claiming it might dissuade the Playboy founder from "his long-enjoyed practice of seducing teen-aged girls" ...

Hospital Report: Sen. Joseph Biden, who was released Tuesday from Walter Reed Army Medical Center after surgery to repair an aneurysm in an artery supplying blood to his brain, will have to return in two or three months for additional surgery on another, smaller aneurysm. Aneurysms are sacs that form in weak spots of arteries. No date has been set for the second operation, and Biden is home in Delaware, where his activities are restricted and visitors are limited to family members. The former Democratic presidential candidate is reportedly in good spirits, and Walter Reed doctors are said to be "delighted" with his progress ...

Richard M. Nixon, the only president to resign the office, may be one of the greatest survivors of all time. According to historian Stephen Ambrose, who is writing the second volume of his Nixon biography, college students today don't see anything bad about Watergate, the scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency. Ambrose, who recently made a three-week visit to Whittier College, Nixon's alma mater, says students there knew "precious little" about the scandal and they "don't see anything so horrible about Watergate ... It's the damnedest thing, but it's quite true. The Nixon revival is full-blown now and well underway," he said ...