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The House: Looking Ahead To 1998

By Stuart Rothenberg

Overview While voters still seem largely unconcerned with the 1998 Congressional elections, both the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have entered a critical period: they are trying to get potentially strong candidates to commit for next year. Until we get a better handle on recruiting and a more complete picture of retirements, the early line on 1998 rests on long-term trends and short-term positioning, which largely cross each other out.

Long-term trends tilt toward the Republicans, since the party controlling the White House invariably loses seats in midterm elections. But short-term factors favor the Democrats, who benefit from the president's continued strong approval ratings and have re-made themselves in the public's eye from tax-and-spend liberals to fiscally conservative moderates. As a result, neither party is likely to have a big advantage going into next year.

Polling shows the Republicans still trying to overcome the '95 "government shutdown" and their flawed effort to attach provisions to the disaster relief bill earlier this year. GOP insiders argue that the party's emphasis on a tax cut this year is a wise move, since it returns voters' focus to a traditionally strong Republican theme.

What they aren't willing to admit, however, is that the president is on the same side of the issue (at least as far as most voters see it) -- except that he also scores points with Democratic core groups by attacking the GOP for supporting "tax cuts for the rich" and crumbs for the middle and working class.

The Republicans are still trying to figure out why they didn't receive most of the credit for welfare reform, a good GOP issue for years. After they get their next tax cut, they may wonder how Bill Clinton got most of the credit for that, too.

The Democrats have done an amazing job "borrowing" GOP themes and putting the Republicans on the defensive, and their success will likely show in "generic" polling showing voters more inclined to vote for Democrats for the House. But the Democrats may well find that the overall mood of the public -- basically content and satisfied with the state of the economy and the status-quo -- will make it hard for them to preach change.

Incumbency again looks like a formidable factor for 1998, and as long as the Republicans can keep their retirements to a minimum, they will remain favored to retain the House.


GOP retirements in two Wisconsin districts, Mark Neumann in the 1st C.D. and Scott Klug in the neighboring 2nd C.D., create major opportunities for the Democrats. Democrats have an advantage in both seats.

Washington's 3rd District, left open now that Cong. Linda Smith is running for the Senate, is also at serious risk.

Republican insiders are awaiting decisions by a number of other Republican congressmen, including Nevada's John Ensign and Washington State's George Nethercutt (WA 5), who have been mentioned for months as possible statewide candidates. Ensign's Nevada 1 would be particularly tough to hold as an open seat.

Cong. Jay Dickey's decision to run for reelection in Arkansas 4, rather than run for the Senate, is good news for the GOP, though a strong Democratic nominee in the Democratic-leaning district poses a risk for the Republicans.

The Democrats could have a tough time holding Scotty Baesler's open Kentucky 6, and the GOP is hoping to pick off Glenn Poshard's Illinois 19, Lee Hamilton's open Indiana 9 or Elizabeth Furse's Oregon 1. But none of the Democratic open seats are nearly as vulnerable as were many of the party's open seats in 1994.

Vulnerable Incumbents

Most GOP and Democratic incumbents have survived at least one tough election cycle. For the Democrats it was 1994. For the Republicans it was 1996.

That means those incumbents seeking reelection have proven their mettle under fire. Moreover, relatively few Republicans occupy Democratic seats, and few Democrats are representing normally Republican districts. That's further support for the idea that incumbents should do well next year.

But there are some incumbents, either because of their districts or recent electoral problems, who look like targets for 1998. That list includes Democrats George Brown (CA 42), Ted Strickland (OH 6), Walter Capps (CA 22), Loretta Sanchez (CA 46), and Jim Maloney (CT 5). On the GOP side, the list includes Bill Redmond (NM 3), Frank Riggs (CA 1), J.D. Hayworth (AZ 6), Jon Fox (PA 13), Kenny Hulshof (MO 9), and Robert Aderholt (AL 4).

Spotlight Archives:

Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. Looks Competitive (12/09/97)
In Idaho, A Rare Opportunity For Dems (11/19/97)
Stay The Course (11/6/97)
Car-Tax Issue Lifts Gilmore In Virginia (10/23/97)
New Jersey Governor's Race Down To The Wire (10/9/97)
Idaho Scramble: Who's Running For What? (9/25/97)
Hawaii's 1st C.D. Looks Like A Powder Keg (9/10/97)
Molinari's Departures Leaves Opening For Dems (8/25/97)
Georgia Governor's Race A Free-For-All (8/12/97)
Rep. Jon Fox Faces A One-Two Punch (7/30/97)
Sen. Hollings Prepares For A Fifth Term (7/22/97)
The House: Looking Ahead To 1998 (7/15/97)
Sen. Bond Has Re-election Edge (7/7/97)
Bumpers' Decision Encourages GOP (7/3/97)
Kentucky Senatorial Race A Toss-Up (6/24/97)
Nevada's Senator Reid Looks Like An Early Favorite (6/17/97)
1998 Gubernatorial Ratings (6/17/97)
Indiana's Evan Bayh Could Reclaim His Father's Old Senate Seat (6/3/97)
Who Will Control The House After '98? (5/30/97)
New Mexico's 3rd District: Color It Republican Green (5/20/97)
Don't Look For Many Senate Retirements In '98 (5/13/97)
Louisiana Senate, 1996: It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over (5/5/97)
Rothenberg's Senate Re-election Ratings (4/25/97)
Dem, GOP Tests In Connecticut, Arizona (4/9/97)
Don't Count Al D'Amato Out Yet (3/25/97)
Whitman A Favorite In New Jersey (2/25/97)
Sen. Boxer Could Be Vulnerable (2/11/97)
Impressive Bloodlines In Minnesota Governor's Race (1/28/97)
Looking Ahead To '98 Gubernatorial Races In California, Florida (1/23/97)
Rothenberg's Senate Ratings (1/23/97)
Family Feud: The Fight for RNC Chairman (1/10/97)

Spotlight 1996

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