The unpleasant publicity about Senator Phil Gramm should die down. But the damage done by his contact with the savings and loan scandal will linger. The Texas Republican, a prime contender for the 1996 Presidential nomination, is smarting from reports that the owner of a failed Dallas S&L swallowed $53,000 worth of construction costs for Gramm's vacation home on Maryland's Eastern shore. "He guaranteed himself four or five nasty paragraphs in every profile from now until 1996," says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. "The whole thing smells fishy."

Although Gramm denies wrongdoing, even a brush with the s&l mess is bad news for a Presidential contender. "Gramm has picked up the tar baby," says political scientist Alan Heslop of Claremont McKenna College. "More than even the congressional check-cashing scandal, the S&L scandal taps into the deepest vein of discontent in our politics today." Gramm may also find that the 1990 ruling by the Senate Ethics Committee that sanctioned his dealings with Dallas developer Jerry D. Stiles may be more curse than help. The private opinion, one of thousands issued by the panel, smacks of the self-dealing that has made voters so cynical about Capitol Hill insiders.

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