By Lou Anne Wolfe
Journal Record Staff Reporter
With a postrld War II record for the number of new members of
Congress expected to be set by this year's elections, many
existing members could be bumped up the seniority ladder quicker
than they anticipated, analysts say.
At the same time, however, they're going to have to move
swiftly to control what is expected to be a feisty and extrarge
"It'll be similar to the Watergate class of 1974 _ unruly and
very difficult for the established leaders to control, on both
sides of the aisle," said Tom Cole, former Oklahoma state
senator, state Republican chairman and now executive director of
the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Political pundits interviewed by The Journal Record predicted
anywhere from 115 to 150 new members when Congress convenes in
January. The current postrld War II record for congressional
newcomers occurred in 1948, when 118 fresh faces arrived in
Washington, D.C., Cole said. There are 435 total members of the
House of Representatives, and 100 in the Senate.
House members serve for two years, and they all come up for
reection at the same time. Senators serve sixar terms which are
"We're looking at milegh levels here," said Stuart Rothenberg,
editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report in
In a typical year, one might expect 25 to 30 members to retire
and a handful of incumbents to lose their party primaries, he
This year, about 19 incumbent legislators lost their party
primaries, another postr record, Rothenberg said. To compare, 18
incumbents were defeated in the 1946 primaries, six in 1980, 10
in 1982, three in 1984, two in 1986, one in 1988 and one in
Dominated by the House banking scandal, the possible reasons
for the shakeout range from the state of the economy, education
and health care to the conviction that there should be term
limits on elected representatives.
Some representatives are retiring so they can convert excess
campaign funds to personal use, Rothenberg said. That option is
only available to members who were elected prior to 1980.
"I think there's no doubt that a lot of senior members have
already taken the road out of town, and others will be shown the
door on Nov. 3," he said. "That's going to alter the makeup of
Congress as an institution, alter the makeup of committees, and
increase the seniority of relatively shortrm members."
Historically, tremendous turnovers such as the ongoing one
have shaken up the process in a "very different fashion," said
Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise
Institute in Washington, D.C.
"It creates opportunities for freshmen to move up to
committees that otherwise wouldn't be available to them, and
increases opportunities for other members to move to better
committees, or up the ladder, much more rapidly."
In terms of how leadership and seniority will be affected,
Cole said it would be "a pretty dramatic infusion of new blood,
and the new people are going to be very much of a mind to change
While the seniority status of returning incumbents could be
embellished, the real beneficiaries of this revolution will be
the newly elected representatives, he said.
"Not immediately, but in a few years this class will become
the one that is dominant in choosing leaders, and will become
competitive for leadership positions a lot faster than would
normally be the case," Cole said. …