There are 45 historically Republican congressional districts in the country that only in the past two or four years have transferred allegiance to Democrats.
These would seem to be the districts - many with Republician voter majorities - in which the GOP would concentrate its financial resources in the upcoming November congressional elections.
But that's not what the Republican campaign strategists are planning. In fact, the National Republican Congressional Committee, with $3 million in its coffers, is pulling back from the old bastions in favor of those districts where there are open seats by virtue of retiring incumbents, Democratic or Republican.
"At least we start even" in the open-seat races, Steven Stockmeyer, executive director of the money-laden NRCC said recently. Incumbency perquisites, he added, "have enshrined the younger Democrats in their districts and made most unbeatable."
That was reflected in polls the NRCC was taken over the past year in the once-Republican district, Stockmeyer said, citing surveys that showed voters, now approve of their Democratic incumbentss because of communications, service and responsiveness, congressional activities financed through expanded House "perks."
In one Midwest GOP district surveyed, which had both urban and suburban voters, the poll found 44 per cent of those who approved of their Democratic congressman attributed it to his communications, 17 per cent to his personality and only 6 per cent to his votes or stands on the issues.
Several post-1976 election polls taken by the GOP committee also showed the impact of incumbent perks, according to Stockmeyer. His noted a poll in a district where a Democrat had served several terms showed that 56 per cent of the voters favored the incumbent because they "knew more about" him while 61 per cent did not consider it important that they disagreed with the incumbent on issues about which they "felt very strongly."
In another poll, where an incumbent Democrat retained the seat in 1976, the Republicans found only 22 per cent voted for party reasons while 37 per cent did so because the incumbent "communicates" and was "responsive."
The results of the GOP polls are echoed by findings of at least one Democratic-leaning union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Bill Welsh, AFSCME's legislative director, said recently that polls his union had financed found the new Democratic members had "amazing name identification" within their districts.
Welsh attributed this to their emphasis on home appearances and attention to their districts through mail and public relations.
Incumbents have always had an advantage over challengers during congressional elections. But expansion of House perquisites - such as the mailing frank and increased allowances for "constituent communications," travel, staff and home office rentals - is making members who use them more secure in office.
As a result, Congress is changing.
Members are becoming more independent of party leaders and even the President. White House favors - in the form of contracts and grants - are less important than a good newsletter or mailing program.
Stockmeyer listed several former GOP district where Republicans are having trouble even finding candidates to contest the Democratic incumbents. Among the ones he mentioned are those of:
Rep. Berkley Bedell of Iowa who has held on for two terms in a district that was Republican from 1942 to 1974.
Rep. Thomas Downey of New York, whose Long Island district still votes GOP in most elections.
Rep. Floyd Fithian of Indiana, elected in a district was once supported the conservative Charles Halleck, a long-time Republican House leader.
Rep. Robert Traxler of Michigan who defeated a Republican in 1974 and has held on to his seat.
The Democratic incumbents listed have one thing in common, according to Stockmeyer: they made good use of the old and new "perks" available to them.
"They have also moderated their voting," he said, making them more acceptable to Republican voters.
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Bedell, for example, travels to Iowa almost every week. Twice a year, in each of the 22 counties in his district, he holds an "open door" meeting on major issues. He sends the meeting schedule for these sessions to every address in his district and makes additional postal patron mailings to announce regular visits by his field staff to local towns.
Last year Bedell sent out a questionnaire and newsletter to his district and makes additional special mailings to a 750-farmer advisory committee he has set up. He also polls his farm advisers by mail on specific legislative issues.
Every week Bedell records a five-minute radio tape in his office, then has it reproduced in the House recording studio and sent, by franked mail, to the 24 radio stations in the district.
In 1974, Bedell won the district by defeating the incumbent, Rep. Wiley Mayne (R-Iowa), with 54.6 per cent of the vote.
In 1976, Bedell won 67 per cent of the vote, and this year, so far, only one Republican has announced.
Downey, whose district has a heavy Republican registration, is looked upon as almost unbeatable by GOP politicians here in and in New York.
Most trace it to Downey's legislative skill and to his clever use of his perks and the media exposure he has gained by being the youngest member of the House.
He, too, spends almost every weekend in the district but last year took time during recesses to travel - most recently to Geneva for five days to observe the arms limitation negotiations.
A believer in the mobile office - a large camper that travels from town to town - Downey uses his often to provide services such as heart and blood tests.
He also stresses nonpolitical activities such as chairing a group of local, state legislators concerned with district problems. Downey plays a lead role since only he has staff and the frank available to work on the problems.
Traxler uses newsletter, three last year, and a questionaire. He also has three offices in the district where his predecessor had one. Eight of the 17 Traxler staff work in Michigan and the congressman goes back every weekend. His family still lives there. Each visit features scheduled office hours.
The results are easily gauged. Traxler won the seat initially with 51 per cent of the vote; in the 1974 election he got 56 per cent; in 1976 it was 59.2 per cent.
This year a GOP selection committee has been working for three months - so far unsuccessfully - to produce a qualified candidate. NRCC's Stockmeyer visited the district last year and said $50,000 in campaign funds could be generated from Washington if the right candidate were found.
Stockmeyer now is prepared to see the district stay Democratic.
Fithian's program echoes the others - town meetings, special mailings, newsletters (one this month to senior citizens and another set for February), a weekly 10-minute radio show, half his staff in the state working out of two offices and a mobile van.
The Hoosier Democrat has one additional operation - a free call-in telephone line for constituents who have problems. According to an aide, the main office in Lafeyette, Ind., averages 40 to 50 calls a day. All of it paid for out Fithian's official allowance.
Incumbency now largely is a one-way street. Three Republicans won formerly Democratic seats in 1976 when vacancies developed. Those GOP members are using the perks they have and Stockmeyer expects that perhaps all three will hold on to their new seats in Democratic districts this November.
"The bulk of our 1978 gains," Stockmeyer concluded recently, "must come from open seats that were once Democratic. That is where a lot of the ballgame is."