By Ken Rudin
Question: What House seats do you rate as most likely to switch to the other party next November? Tim Ayers, Nashville, Tenn.
Question: Is it not likely that while the Democratic presidential candidate may go down in flames, the Democrats might win a narrow victory in the House in 2000? Americans seem to prefer this form of power-sharing. In any case, assuming a big GOP White House win, what are the Democrats' chances in the House? Daniel Metraux, Kyoto, Japan
Answer: The Democrats certainly have a shot at retaking the House next year. If the Dems hold onto the seat of the late Rep. George Brown (Calif.-42) in the Sept. 21 special election (runoff, if needed, Nov. 16), they will need just five seats to regain control in 2000.
But, as you say, the outcome of the House may not depend on what happens in the race for the White House. Remember, Democrat Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, but the GOP picked up 10 House seats that year. Similarly, Republican George Bush won the White House in 1988, but the Democrats showed a net gain of three House seats. Now, should there be a presidential blowout in 2000, one might expect a similar landslide trend in congressional contests. However, don't forget the lesson of 1972, when Richard Nixon won a 49-state landslide but his fellow Republicans managed only a 12-seat gain in the House. I think it is less that Americans consciously look for a power-sharing arrangement and more that voters are making more independent judgments when they go into the voting booths.
Question: Are any of the Democratic leaders of the House in danger? David Bonior of Michigan, for example, always seems to have a close race. John M. Ahearn, Smithtown, N.Y.
Answer: Aside from Bonior, none of the House Democrats in leadership positions Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.); Chief Deputy Whips Chet Edwards (Tex.), John Lewis (Ga.), Ed Pastor (Ariz.), and Maxine Waters (Calif.); or Campaign Committee chair Patrick Kennedy (R.I.) seems at risk of losing his or her seat next year. Bonior, the minority whip, always seems to be in some sort of trouble during presidential election years. Only once in the six times Bonior ran in presidential years has he topped 55 percent of the vote. He usually does better in midterm elections, though 1998 was an aberration he managed only 52 percent of the vote. But the Democratic vote throughout Michigan was suppressed that year, due in part to the unconventional (and bizarre) gubernatorial candidacy of Geoffrey Fieger, the lawyer for assisted-suicide practitioner Jack Kevorkian. Still, Republicans were encouraged by the results, and have set out to retire Bonior once and for all in 2000.
The GOP had recruited Secretary of State Candice Miller to take him on. Miller, who won a landslide second term last year, carrying every county, was touted as a Goliath who could slay David. But suddenly, out of the blue, she announced a month ago that she would not make the race. The bombshell left Republicans in both Michigan and Washington stunned, and with egg on their face. (Speaking of stunned Republicans, the decision this week by New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman to skip a race for an open Senate seat left Garden State Republicans similarly shell-shocked and suddenly scrambling for an alternative candidate.)
The last Democrats in the House leadership to be defeated were Speaker Tom Foley (Wash.) in 1994 and Majority Whip John Brademas (Ind.) in 1980.
Question: Who was the last man to be elected president while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives? David N. Martin, Dedham, Mass.
Answer: The last, and only, person to go directly from the House to the White House was Rep. James Garfield, an Ohio Republican, in 1880. See the Aug. 14, 1998 column for the history of House members who have sought the presidency.
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© Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin