In this corner we have Michael

Barone, a fact freak who can tell

you the 1960 population of St.

Louis, recite foreign train schedules and list political details of every congressional district.

"Lately I've been pawing through the World Bank development report which compares GNPs, economic growth and specifics about manufacturing," says Barone. "I'm trying to get a little more of a world perspective."

And in the opposite corner, we have Alan Ehrenhalt, another detail buff who "made the standard progression that a lot of people do from baseball statistics to election statistics to political demographics generally."

Barone, 37, and Ehrenhalt, 34, are the moving forces behind two books-- both published on the same day this fall--that are competing to become Washington's political bible. Barone's Almanac of American Politics was first published in 1972 and biennially since then. But for the first time, there's competition in the form of Ahrenhalt's Politics in America.

Both books detail the votes and politics of every member of congress.

"I'm a big admirer of the Almanac," says Ehrenhalt, "but I thought there was an opening for a book about the members of Congress as legislators with a little less about the districts."

"I just haven't looked through their volume to say if that's definitely the difference," says Barone, whose Almanac is indeed strong on colorful details of congressional districts. Barone has visited 403 of the nation's 435 districts, where he likes to drive through neighborhoods and loiter in shopping centers to get a feel for the locale.

Ehrenhalt, a political writer for Congressional Quarterly, oversaw a research team of about 50 people to produce Congressional Quarterly Press' Politics in America. First printing: 10,000 hardback copies at $29.50 each.

Barone, a vice president with the Washington political polling and consulting firm of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, wrote his book with a former Harvard colleague. But it's Barone, with his amazing mind, who is the book's "soul." This year Barone decided to become his own publisher, a gamble backed by a loan from his father-in-law, a San Francisco real estate developer. First printing: 50,000 at $17 in paperback, $29.95 in hardback.

Footnote: One of Ehrenhalt's editorial contributors, Warden Moxley, is also a trivia fan who can list every vice president and secretary of state and knows the name of every person who has served in Congress. Says one reporter who worked with Moxley: "Ask him to name the Kansas congressional delegation in 1898, and chances are he will."