From an article by Robert Kuttner in The New Republic (Feb. 15):
If any job is more thankless than being in Congress, it is trying to get there. In 1986 a record 98.4 percent of incumbents defending their seats were reelected. Just six challengers toppled sitting representatives, a new low.
There are several reasons Congress increasingly is becoming a permanent bipartisan government of safe incumbents. Gerrymandering is more sophisticated today. With computers, a "safe district" tends to stay safe. In many state legislatures, when congressional districts are redrawn a tacit bipartisan incumbents' conspiracy puts the Republican voters in the Republican districts and the Democratic voters in the Democratic ones. Moreover, in recent years, incumbents have devoted ever-increasing numbers of their ever-increasing staffs to the task of servicing constituents. Because of this effort, the average voter may deplore Congress as an institution but generally likes his own representative. Perhaps most important, as campaign finance has become more systematic, lobbies of all stripes put ever more of their money into incumbents (who have legislative influence), and relatively less into challengers (who don't).
Challengers of every persuasion and both parties have an uphill battle, but the hardest case is a liberal Democrat challenging an incumbent Republican. . . .
And so money continues to corrupt politics, creating permanent incumbencies, posing special hurdles for Democratic liberals, and depressing voter turnout. (Why bother to vote when the incumbent has a permanent lock on his seat?) The American legislative system is becoming more like the legislatures of Bulgaria or of Tammany, where there is one party and it is the party of the incumbents.