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Impeachment and the Six-Seat GOP Majority
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 14, 2000

Question: Which House members who participated in the Clinton impeachment saga are standing for reelection, and are any of them likely to suffer voter backlash? – Martin Warshauer, Tarpon Springs, Fla.

Answer: By "participated" I assume you mean the 13 Republicans who served as House managers during the Senate impeachment trial. Of the 13, all are running for reelection except two Florida Republicans: Bill McCollum, who is seeking his party's Senate nomination, and Charles Canady, who is sticking to his term-limits pledge to retire.

McCollum evidently was long considered the favorite to win the primary but less likely to win the general election. His 20-year conservative House record gives him a huge financial and organizational advantage over his GOP primary opponent, state Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher. But some see McCollum's hard-line, no-nonsense approach as a problem heading into combat in the fall against likely Democratic nominee Bill Nelson, a folksy former congressman and current state insurance commissioner. At this point, the McCollum-Gallagher primary (Sept. 5) appears tight; there is a perception – which Gallagher is eagerly trying to exploit – that McCollum might not be able to hold the seat of the retiring Connie Mack for the party.

Matchup of this year's best House race. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Of all the House managers, one is clearly in trouble – California's James Rogan, whose district has been rapidly losing its GOP character since the 1992 redistricting. Rogan, whose high-profile role in the case against Clinton landed him atop the Democrats' hit list, has hovered around 50 percent in his two previous victories, and this year's battle is expected to be another nail-biter. In fact, Rogan actually trailed his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Adam Schiff, by more than 2,000 votes in last month's open primary (when all candidates run on the same ballot) – a sign of vulnerability. Both Rogan and Schiff are raising a lot of money, much of it based on Rogan's role in the impeachment. This may be the top House race in the nation this year.

The Dems also would love to unseat Bob Barr, another manager who may have replaced fellow Georgian Newt Gingrich as their least favorite Republican. Democrats point to Barr's underwhelming showing in 1998, when he vastly outspent his little-known rival and won just 55 percent of the vote. His likely opponent this year is Roger Kahn, a wealthy Atlanta businessman who is not expected to suffer the kind of financial woes that felled Barr's foe two years ago. Barr, who advocated Clinton's impeachment well before the nation ever heard of Monica Lewinsky, is still considered the favorite.

The rest of the group – Henry Hyde (Ill.), James Sensenbrenner (Wis.), George Gekas (Pa.), Steve Buyer (Ind.), Ed Bryant (Tenn.), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Asa Hutchinson (Ark.), Chris Cannon (Utah) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) – are all expected to have a lock on reelection. Of these, Hutchinson and Graham were probably the most effective Clinton antagonists, and both have prospered at home. Hutchinson is running unopposed for the second consecutive election. Graham may be the most popular elected official in South Carolina; he is thought to be eyeing the seat of Sen. Strom Thurmond, who will be 100 years old when his seat is up in 2002. Chabot, who struggled to win a third term in his Cincinnati district two years ago, seems to have been spared a serious challenge this time; Democrats are supporting a political neophyte.

It may be surprising that these members generally are favored to win reelection despite their roles in the impeachment drama, but impeachment has mostly faded from the political landscape. That may not prevent some partisans on both sides from raising the issue this year – especially in fund-raising. But nothing indicates an impending repeat of the "nationalized" House races of 1994.

Question: I teach American Government and a student asked a question the other day that I had never considered before. Since House membership is fixed at 435 and reapportionment only happens after each census, what would happen if a new state were added? Would there be a temporary addition to the House membership? – Steve Sheets, Chesapeake, Ohio
Alaska's Ralph Rivers temporarily increased House membership to 436 in 1958. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

Answer: Yes, and that's what happened when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union in 1958 and 1959 respectively. House membership had stood at 435 since 1911. When Alaska and Hawaii became states, they got one House member each. That temporarily raised House membership to 437, which stood until reapportionment following the 1960 census brought it back to 435.

Question: ... and who chose 435? And why and when? – Michael Bishop, Atlanta, Ga.

Answer: By the end of the 19th Century, Congress had regularly increased House membership with each successive census – to 357 members after the 1890 count, to 391 after 1900, and to 435 after 1910. Instead of penalizing any state that was losing population, Congress's solution was to keep increasing the total. A bill introduced after the 1920 census would have raised it to 483, but some felt that such an increase would make the House too unruly to be able to conduct business. In 1929, Congress passed a law that permanently maintained House membership at 435 and provided for an automatic reapportionment after each census.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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