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Mark Russell hits the campaign trail

Nineteen ninety-two: Another election year. Through his horn-rimmed glasses, you can almost see the sparkle in Mark Russell's eyes.

For him, election year is like a retailer's Christmas week, the liveliest season.

Since 1975, the political pundit of the Potomac has been singing and joking on television about those who run for and hold elected office.

Tonight, the night after the New Hampshire primary, he sharpens his satirical needles for the first of his six live PBS specials, airing nationwide from WNED in Buffalo, his hometown. It airs at 8 p.m., locally on WEDU-Ch. 3.

In December, after the first Democratic candidates' roundtable debate on NBC, Russell was already off and running, zeroing in on their foibles. Almost shy in person, Russell makes it look easy.

But to joke about politics requires understanding, and Russell, 60, with a long memory and a sharp eye, is well-versed in Washington ways.

His friend, lawyer Joseph DiGenova, said Russell "knows more about policy and politics than people who pretend to be consultants. He has to understand it better to translate it into humor."

When he isn't traveling, Russell spends long days in his attic-office reading newspapers to find material for his act and writing his four-day-a-week column for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Washington's best-known political satirist has spent almost his entire adult life here.

Five years ago he and wife, Alison, 40, moved from a condo to their Twenties-era house, a few blocks from the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory. She said they bought it because "it made us laugh. We're always working on it."

This year Russell plans to attend both political conventions, then return to Ford's Theatre next January for Inauguration week. In early August the Russells plan to rent a farm in Ireland with DiGenova and his lawyer-wife, Victoria Toensing, while Russell does a show in Dublin to be taped for airing later.

In DiGenova's view, "This is a guy who doesn't want to hurt anybody with his humor, to be funny without having to fall into vulgarity. Mark has never lost the essential humility of a great comedian. There's not an arrogant bone in his body. This man is basically a monk: He cloisters himself for a set number of hours each day in a regimented lifestyle. That discipline is sort of the antithesis of this free-flowing humor that people see."

CNN to provide live coverage of the Oscar nominations

Times Wires

CNN will devote a live, half-hour special report on coverage and analysis of the nominations for the 64th Annual Academy Awards this morning at 8:30. CNN entertainment correspondent Sherri Sylvester will report from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, site of the announcements by Academy President Karl Malden and actress Kathleen Turner.

CNN Showbiz Today co-host Bella Shaw will be in CNN's Los Angeles Bureau along with Hollywood Reporter industry analyst Martin Grove and Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel, who will offer a thorough examination of the Oscar hopefuls.

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