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THRIFT SCANDAL POSES BIG THREAT TO INCUMBENTS

Scores of members of Congress up for re-election suddenly feel an acute and unfamiliar threat to their job security.

If voters turn on incumbents this year and heed the cry of challengers to "sweep the rascals out," the savings and loan scandal will have a lot to do with it.Most members of Congress seem to hold a long-term lease on their seats. Thanks to the political advantages of incumbency, the re-election rate for members of the House of Representatives hit a peak of 98 percent in 1988.

But that may be about to change.

"Voters are frustrated, alienated, and they are angry," says pollster Neil Newhouse, senior vice president of the Wirthlin Group who works for numerous Republican candidates. New-house says his polls reflect "slippage" of support for incumbents of both parties, with their support level down five points.

He calls the savings and loan scandal, with its billions of dollars in costs for taxpayers, "potentially a very strong issue" in what is shaping up as an "an anti-incumbent year."

"It is an ugly climate out there," agrees Anita Dunn, press secretary for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. "Our candidates are seeing and sensing a disconnect. Voters have an extraordinary level of cynicism and skepticism, much higher than any time in the last decade, and they appear willing to accept arguments against incumbents that they have not been willing to accept in past election cycles. The S&L mess plays into that."

The issue is a sword in the hands of challengers fighting to unseat entrenched lawmakers of both parties in scores of election races across the country.

"My opponent is making it the only issue," says Rep. Steve Neal, D-N.C., who serves on the House Banking Committee and who received $47,100 in contributions from savings and loan political action committees in the past 10 years.