Will 1994 be a Republican year?


Rep. Helen Delich Bentley's decision to give up her safe seat in the House of Representatives to run for governor is indicative of the confidence with which Republicans face 1994's elections. Five of her House Republican colleagues are giving up security to run for governor in their states, and five other Republican representatives are preparing to run for the Senate.

Only four House Democrats as of now are so inclined to run for either governor or senator.

One reason Republicans around the nation think 1994 may be a good year is that it's an off-year. The party that holds the White House usually loses seats in Congress in the next election. Republicans have already seen some happy off-year signs. Two members of their party have been elected to the Senate in special elections (Georgia, Texas) since Bill Clinton's presidential victory. Then Republicans won the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey and the mayor's races in Los Angeles and New York, all of which had Democratic incumbents.

Incumbency is not as valuable as it used to be. In 1992, 124 newcomers were elected to the Congress, most in districts or states in which tired or scared incumbents chose not to run, but the number of incumbents who were defeated in primaries or general elections was much higher than normal. Polling suggests the mood of "throw the rascals out" has continued into this year.

Representative Bently is not running against an incumbent, and, in fact, incumbency's advantages seem as great as ever in Maryland. Every incumbent member of the state's House delegation as of now would be favored to win re-election this year. That is so for the four Democrats expected to seek re-election and the three Republicans. It is so even though three representatives, running in newly drawn districts in 1992, won with 54 percent of the vote or less, which is relatively close in House races and implies vulnerability.

Nationally, Republicans expect to make gains in the Senate, which Democrats now control by 56-44. Republican hopes are high because 21 of the 34 seats up in 1994 are now held by Democrats. Anti-incumbency feelings are more likely to affect high visibility statewide races than they are districtwide ones.

Again Maryland seems to be different. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, a 24-year congressional veteran, is at the moment expected to be re-elected no matter who Republicans choose to challenge him.

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