HARVEY L. SCHANTZ
Congressional election returns consistently underscore a central characteristic of United States elections and the Congress: two-party hegemony. Virtually all members of Congress are elected as Democrats or Republicans. Thus, although it is not called for in the Constitution, major party nominations are the crucial first step in congressional selection. This chapter is an examination of the congressional nomination process of 1996, with an emphasis on procedures, candidates, and electoral patterns in primaries.
Popularly elected government has long called into existence the prior nomination of candidates. 1 In the United States, the predominant method of nomination for offices other than the presidency changed from party conventions to direct primaries in the early years of the twentieth century. 2 The direct primary opened up the selection of candidates to more people, for it places the formal selection of party candidates in the hands of the electorate rather than in those of party officials or members.
The 1996 congressional nominations followed the pattern of most of the twentieth century, as the overwhelming number of U.S. House and Senate party nominations were made in direct primaries (tables 2.1 and 2.2). 3 One major difference between House and Senate primaries, though, was that most House primaries were not contested whereas most Senate primaries were contested. There were also a few nominations decided by party conventions, party committees, and write-ins. The Democrats and Republicans nominated candidates for all of the Senate seats, but both parties failed to nominate in a few House districts.