Re-exploring the Weak-Challenger Hypothesis: The 1994 Candidate Pools
L. SANDY MAISEL
ELIZABETH J. IVRY
BENJAMIN D. LING
STEPHANIE G. PENNIX1
The 1994 midterm elections were so exceptional that commentator after commentator, analyst after analyst, feels compelled to repeat summary statistics with which he or she knows the audience is familiar. We cannot resist.
Of course, the key numbers are 40 and 52. The Republican party gained control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years; the GOP did so by gaining 52 seats previously held by Democrats. The 52-seat gain was the largest midterm partisan swing since the Republicans picked up 55 seats in the midterm elections in 1946, after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman's succession to the presidency, and the end of World War II.
While this chapter examines only elections to the House of Representatives, we should note that all elections of 1994 were totally one-sided. Not only did no Republican incumbent seeking reelection lose a seat in the House, but not one incumbent Republican governor or U.S. senator lost either. This level of support for incumbents of one party is all but unprecedented in recent electoral history. Even in the Democratic landslide of 1974, following the Watergate revelations and the resignation of President Nixon, 4 incumbent Democrats lost. Even in the Republican landslide of 1966, when the GOP picked up 47 House seats, 1 incumbent Republican was defeated. And even in recent elections when incumbents were virtually unbeatable, like that in 1986 when only 7 incumbents lost, the losers were divided between the parties. In informal comments at the 1995 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Duke University professor and defeated Congressman David Price (D.-N.C., 1986-94) summarized the election results in North Carolina with a statement that reflected the situation in many states, "In county after county throughout the state, we woke up on November 9th and not a Democrat was left standing."