Why the 2010 Congressional Elections Won't Repeat 1994

The Democrats can still hold their majority.

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The parties start helping new members with their re-election within days of their arrival in Washington. Each side has specialized incumbent protection programs—the Democrats' is called Frontline and the Republicans' the Patriot Program. In short, picking off incumbents is harder than ever.

The parties are now in the R&R pe­riod of the political season—recruiting and retention. The 2010 elections are likely to turn on the outcomes of policies that are already set: healthcare, Afghanistan, and, most important, the economy. But the extent to which each side will be able to ride or resist a wave generated by one of these issues will be decided by how well Democrats and Republicans position themselves now in terms of the candidates they run and the competitive open seats they must defend. Which brings us back to Gordon, Moore, Tanner, and Baird.

The critical question for Democrats is to what extent other swing district members will join them in retirement. The over-under, according to veteran political observers like Charlie Cook, is 15. If competitive Democratic retirements swell past that number, we could see a different ballgame than in 1994 but the same final score.

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