Republican strategists have for some time touted the emergence of a new, politically critical class of voters called the "investor class," the growing number of people with savings directly or indirectly in the stock market.

These voters, some GOP strategists say, who grew from 44 percent of adult Americans in 1997 to maybe 60 percent now, were more likely to favor Republican economic policies and they vote, making up perhaps 70 percent of the electorate.

These voters would cut across income, education or family background lines, the strategists argue. A Washington Post poll in October 2003 found that 54 percent of those with annual income between $30,000 and $50,000 were investors.

Democrats say the notion that these folks, especially those who own stock indirectly through retirement plans, will become GOP backers, is much overblown. But there is a logic to the idea that, with direct investments and retirement plans, an aging electorate is much more conscious of the market and of retirement portfolios than before.

If so, the GOP folks may be feeling a little uneasy these days. The way things are going, it's possible President Bush will be the third incumbent in three decades to seek reelection with the Dow Jones Industrial Average lower than when he took office, our colleague Lucy Shackelford reports.

The average of 30 large stocks was 60 points (or 6 percent) lower in November 1976, when President Gerald R. Ford ran for a first full term than it was four years earlier when Richard M. Nixon took the oath for the second time. It was 23 points (2 percent) lower in November 1980, when Jimmy Carter ran for reelection, than it was when he took the oath four years earlier. And we know what happened to Ford and Carter.

The Dow was about 54 points (6 percent) higher for Nixon in November 1972 than it was on Jan. 20, 1969. It was 266 points (24 percent) higher when Ronald Reagan wanted four more years. And it was an irrationally exuberant 2,780 points (86 percent) higher for Bill Clinton at election time 1996.

On the other hand, the exception turns out to be George H.W. Bush in 1992. In that race, the market was 1,027 points (or 46 percent) higher for Bush I when he ran again, but even that didn't help.

The current President Bush saw the Dow drop from 10,588 when he took the oath to a low of 7,286 in October 2002. But it has come back smartly since then. Still, the numbers are less than one would hope.

The Dow closed at 10,050 yesterday, 538 points or 5 percent lower than on Inauguration Day 2001. The high-tech Nasdaq market, at 2,770 on Inauguration Day, closed at 1,889 yesterday, down 32 percent. And the S&P 500, which had been at 1,343, closed at 1,097, down 18 percent.

Time to get those rally caps on. Maybe another tax cut?

Berger and Hall: Riders on the Storm

The curious case of former National Security Council adviser -- and more recently Kerry campaign adviser -- Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and those top secret documents he pilfered from the National Archives has finally generated some creativity on the Hill.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), interviewed on CNN yesterday, said that "to engage in a little literary flair, I might say it seems Sandy walked out of the National Archives with some PDBs in his BVDs and some classified docs in his socks." (A PDB is a Presidential Daily Briefing.)

Berger's imbroglio has sparked comparisons with that of fellow document stuffer Fawn Hall, former secretary to Reagan National Security Council staffer Oliver L. North. For both, there are important questions as to what they did with the documents.

Hall shredded some papers and carried others out in her boots and skirt. She adamantly denied a report that she hid documents in her bra.

Hall later moved to Los Angeles and married a former manager for Jim Morrison and the Doors.

Berger put documents in his coat and pants but denies using his socks.

Playing Slots at DOT

The lobbying is hot and heavy at the Department of Transportation. Seems Midwest Express, hurting financially, recently gave up a coveted slot at Reagan Washington National Airport for a daily round-trip to Des Moines.

Northwest Airlines, backed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who has carried lots of water for the administration, and the Iowa delegation are fighting to keep the slot for Iowa. It was a state Al Gore won but only by a few thousand votes.

Delta commuter line Comair wants it for a round-trip to Jackson, Miss., a move naturally backed by Senate Rules Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and the Mississippi folks.

And Spirit Airlines is hoping to get the slot for a flight to Myrtle Beach, S.C., which has the backing of folks there.

Transportation officials say they're going to judge this not on politics but according to the specific criteria laid out under the law. A decision is expected shortly.

FAWN HALLSANDY BERGER