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1 Introduction 1.1 A Tale of Two Elections: 1874 and 1974 By almost any measure, the congressional elections of 1874 were disastrous for the Republican Party. While incumbent legislators of the president’s party are often evaluated unfavorably during midterm elections , 1874 was a particularly devastating year for Republicans.1 The party lost 96 seats and majority status in the House of Representatives for the first time since the end of the Civil War. After opening the 43rd (1873–1875) Congress with a healthy 203 to 88 seat margin over the Democrats, House Republicans in the 44th Congress (1875–1877) found themselves outnumbered 107 to 181 by Democrats.2 The Republican losses were not confined to one state or specific region of the country, rather it was a nationwide route. In the Eastern states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania , and New York, for instance, Republicans lost 31 seats. In Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri, Republicans lost an additional 27 seats. Democrats completed the sweep in the former Confederate states, adding 27 seats in that region of the country as well. The scale and dispersion of the Republican losses in 1874 have led many historians and observers to focus on the national determinants for the loss. The Panic of 1873 hit the United States in 1873, beginning a 5 year recession that produced bank failures, closure of the stock market for 10 days, wage depression, and an unemployment rate as high as 14 percent. As the recession set in, President Ulysses S. Grant and the Republican Congress received considerable blame for failing to enact policies that would ease the panic. Rather than support policies 1 2 Ambition, Competition, and Electoral Reform that would ease the recession, President Grant instead vetoed a bill that would have inflated the currency and he, along with congressional Republicans, continued to adhere to protectionists’ tariff policies that inflated the price of goods in the United States. As a result of the serious economic downturn in the United States, one historian, Edward Stanwood (1903(II),186), labeled the 1874 election a “political revolution ” against the Republican party and its policies. In addition, the Grant administration was saddled with numerous scandals surrounding the unethical activities of appointed officials (Stanwood 1903). In many ways, the 1874 election was eerily similar to one that would occur 100 years later in 1974. Once again, Republicans were weighed down in a midterm election by a scandal-plagued president and poor economic conditions. The combination of the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s subsequent resignation in August of that year turned the public against the Republican party. Things only got worse as newly inaugurated President Ford decided to pardon former President Nixon, a decision which was met with derision throughout the country. At the same time, President Ford was presiding over an economy that was losing jobs and facing heightened inflation. Though there was no congressional majority for the Republicans to lose in 1974, they ended up losing 43 seats in the House of Representatives, four seats in the Senate, and numerous state legislative seats and governorships across the country. All told, it was a devastating loss for the Republicans that set back their chances of winning majority control of the chamber for another two decades and set the stage for them to ultimately lose the presidency in 1976. Despite the poor electoral showing for Republicans in 1974, scholars to date have found virtually no evidence to suggest that voters directly punished Republican congressional candidates for the state of affairs in the country. In fact, Jacobson and Kernell (1983) argue that the 1974 midterm elections were not a referendum on Ford, Nixon, or Watergate at all, but rather reflected the differences in candidate quality in each House seat. In congressional districts throughout the country, quality Democratic candidates—defined as candidates who previously held elective office—defeated Republican incumbents and challengers who ran, but lacked the requisite electoral experience. The adverse electoral environment did hurt Republicans and help Democrats in candidate recruitment, but the electoral effects were filtered through candidate quality. In other words, incumbent legislators were much more vulnerable in races where a quality challenger emerged Introduction 3 to run against them. Democrats had an easier time recruiting quality candidates to run in 1974 as a result of the national mood, while Republicans struggled to both recruit quality candidates and stem the flow of incumbent retirements. As a result of the political circumstances, the Democrats captured 75 seats...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780472028955
Related ISBN
9780472118649
MARC Record
OCLC
828628940
Pages
192
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-20
Language
English
Open Access
No
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