Congressional Competition: Gone with the Wind?

Larry Sabato expands upon a point I have emphasized here repeatedly: the institutional factors weighing against a turnover of the House despite bad Republican polling numbers.

Quite a few GOP incumbents are nervous or even running scared in 2006 in the dreaded sixth-year itch election, with President Bush’s polls at an all-time low (Iraq, Katrina, gas prices, etc.) and the corruption issue possibly taking hold in some states and districts.

Yet consider this: Just 24 House members have announced plans to step down so far–the lowest number in a midterm election year since 1966! Most change occurs in open seats, with no incumbent running. Democrats have to gain 15 seats, net, to take control of the House. But of the 24 open seats, only 16 are currently held by Republicans. Democratic chances of winning many of the GOP open seats are next to nil, since many of these seats are heavily Republican, including these seven:

* Michael Bilirakis (R-FL 9)
* Joel Hefley (R-CO 5)
* Bill Jenkins (R-TN 1)
* Ernest Istook (R-OK 5)
* Tom Osborne (R-NE 3)
* Butch Otter (R-ID 1)
* Bill Thomas (R-CA 22)

No realistic Democrat expects to win any of these berths, and The Crystal Ball could have added several more to the list–seats likely to be held by the GOP, though its chances are a bit less steady than usual (such as OH-4, FL-13, and NV-2). We’ll be very surprised if Democrats manage to win even four or five of the remaining six open GOP seats (AZ-8, IL-6, MN-6, CO-7, WI-8, and IA-1). Finally, let’s not forget that the Republicans have decent shots at two Democratic open seats, OH-6 where Ted Strickland is leaving to run for Governor, and VT-At Large where Bernie Sanders is vacating to bid for the Senate.

There are additional issues beyond the math:

The powers of incumbency are much greater in the television age, when TV is a kind of electronic throne for those already in power. Taxpayer spending is also lavished on modern incumbents for staff, district offices, mailings, and the like. Massive war chests for incumbent reelection campaigns are standard. And pinpoint computer-mapped redistricting that guarantees a long tenure for the majority of congressmen doesn’t hurt either.

So, even with the stars seeming to line up nicely for the Democrats, they are still fighting an uphill struggle.



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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. MrGone says:

    You know, in spite of what you may think, I am not a die hard Democrat. I don’t even mind if the Republicans run the show forever. But please, when are they going to learn how to govern? I don’t think the country can take much more of this.

  2. McGehee says:

    But please, when are they going to learn how to govern?

    “How to govern” depends on what you want from the government. Our system was designed to prevent efficiency because the Founding Fathers judged that an efficient government was generally a tyrannical government.

    An inefficient government was a good thing when all it was allowed to do was wield the enumerated powers explicitly listed in the Constitution.

    But now that we actually get “goodies” from the government, inefficiency gets in the way.

    Which is precisely how the Founding Fathers wanted it.