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Future pundits of America?

In the race to predict the winners in last week's national elections, a group of 10th graders from Silver Spring, Md., proved to be the dark horse by beating a bunch of political pundits at their own game.

In a competition run by The Washington Post, 75 students from Montgomery Blair High School were invited to join a field of political writers, consultants, and other experts and offer their best guesses on who would win the presidency, the House and Senate, and the governors' races, and by what margin.

The students predicted that President Clinton would win 49.1 percent of the popular vote and his Republican rival, Bob Dole, would earn 41.6 percent. Mr. Clinton actually won 49.2, while Mr. Dole came in at 40.8, according to election results compiled by The Associated Press.

"We were almost dead on the money," said Christopher Lloyd, one of the students' teachers, who seemed tickled that the teenagers beat the likes of former GOP operative Mary Matalin, journalist Eleanor Clift, and television commentator John McLaughlin.

But, Mr. Lloyd said, the students sweated for their moment of glory, basing their predictions on extensive research.

Several teams of students spent two months crunching poll numbers in 50 states and evaluating demographics, voting patterns, and "media spin" to calculate the probable election returns. The teachers then fed the research into a computer database and submitted their entry to the Outlook Crystal Ball Contest run by the Post's Sunday editorial section.

Despite the students' accuracy on the popular-vote count, these future pundits of America were a little off on some other projections. They wrongly forecasted, for example, that the Democrats would reclaim control of the Senate and that Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md., would fall to defeat.

Steven Luxenberg, the newspaper's Outlook editor, said these faulty prognostications cost the students the grand prize. "I was rooting for the kids, but they can't win," Mr. Luxenberg said, noting that several contestants were closer to the correct results in the other five categories. Though the Post had yet to declare a winner last week, the grand prize of a crystal ball will likely go to one of the people who get paid to prognosticate, he said. Barring some unforeseen complication, the contest winner was to be announced Nov. 10.

--JESSICA PORTNER

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