So what about all the campaign rhetoric coming from the presidential candidates about how much they care about issues? Several months ago, the nonprofit group Project Vote Smart mailed issue questionnaires to presidential hopefuls and repeatedly implored each campaign to respond. Of the four leading candidates, only Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) complied.

Neither Vice President Gore nor former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley completed the survey, though Bradley's campaign staff faxed 17 pages of issue positions on the eve of the deadline (they were politely rebuffed).

Texas Gov. George W. Bush failed to respond despite being contacted 21 times. The rest of the GOP field all submitted responses.

One complaint from campaigns that failed to mail back their surveys was that the multiple-choice format didn't allow enough wiggle room to give nuanced answers.

Not so, according to Project Vote Smart's Adelaide Elm.

"In every category, there were options to write in an open-ended response," Elm said, noting that candidates were given the option of skipping up to 30 percent of the survey. "This is the worst crop of front-runners we've ever dealt with."

Voters interested in perusing the answers of candidates that did respond can visit www.vote-smart.org, where they would learn, for example, that McCain wants to eliminate federal funding for the arts but would "slightly increase" funding for education, medical research, national parks and transportation and that he supports normalized relations with Vietnam even though he was held as a prisoner of war there for five years.

GOP Senate Fund Is Running Ahead

There was good news and bad news for Senate Republicans in their year-end tally of fund-raising for the November elections.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $28.5 million last year, which is $3 million more than the Democrats took in for the year. But the Democrats wound up with more cash on hand to start the election year: $10.75 million compared with $7.8 million for the GOP.

Republicans took solace in the fact that their money in the bank was more than double their cash balance of $3.5 million at this point in the election cycle two years ago. Moreover, they said, their cash reserves would have exceeded $11 million if they hadn't had to pay off a $4 million debt from the previous campaign.

While used for Senate campaigns, money raised by the committee is in addition to funds raised by individual candidates. The NRSC said Republican candidates were out-raising their Democratic rivals by nearly 2 to 1 as of mid-1999, reflecting the last available figures.

House Republican Won't Run Again

First there was the arterial blockage in his heart that put him in the hospital. Then there was the impeachment of President Clinton. And most recently, there was the robbery on a District street. It added up to retirement for Rep. Ed Pease (R-Ind.), who announced in Terre Haute Saturday that the events had made him rethink his priorities and decide not to seek a third term from the 7th Congressional District.

Pease, 48, said he will return to fields, forests, family and friends in Indiana and "actively engage in the volunteer life of the communities I love so much," the Associated Press reported.

Pease's announcement puts the number of Republicans not seeking reelection at 22, compared with six Democrats, which may not help the GOP effort to maintain its modest majority of 222 to 212 Democrats and one independent in the House.

Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.