DALLAS: In racking up nearly eight million votes for candidates Ross Perot and Pat Choate, the Reform Party made a significant breakthrough in Tuesday's election, becoming the first third party in modern American politics to qualify for significant federal matching funds, even if Perot is not the candidate (and don't be surprised if he is). True, Perot was more successful in 1992, but without the backing of an organized party, Perot alone qualified for matching funds in this election cycle. With conscientious efforts at party-building in the next four years, the Reform Party could become a perpetual thorn in the side of the Republicans and Democrats, even without competitive candidates for national office. Much could be learned from Pat Robertson, who turned the mailing list generated by his failed 1988 presidential bid into the powerful Christian Coalition. What's next? A slate of credible Reform House and Senate candidates in 1998 would build a more effective party machine and dispel the cult-of-personality image as Perot's captive audience. If major party candidates find themselves courting the centrist Reform vote in 2000 and beyond, the new party can have a significant impact on policy without winning a single election; witness the political energy dedicated to deficit reduction since Perot appeared on national television with his charts and graphs in 1992.