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Majority of House Members Expected to Win Reelection : Politics: Despite voters' anti-incumbent mood, few sitting lawmakers will be turned out, experts say. Even those facing criminal indictment.

November 05, 1994|ALAN C. MILLER and DWIGHT MORRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Call them the Indicted but Still Favored Few.

Despite the antipathy toward Congress nationwide, voters in Illinois, California and Pennsylvania may well reelect three lawmakers whose ultimate fates will hang on yet another verdict. Reps. Mel Reynolds (D-Ill.), Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton) and Joseph M. McDade (R-Pa.) have the unsavory distinction of being on next week's ballot while also being under indictment.

A fourth legislator under indictment, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), was also considered a shoo-in for reelection before a final Republican push suggested that his race may be tougher than expected.

The nature of the four congressmen's alleged crimes makes their electoral viability even more striking: Reynolds is charged with 20 counts of sexual assault, child pornography, aggravated sexual abuse of a child and obstruction of justice. Tucker was indicted on 10 counts of extortion and income tax evasion and McDade on five counts of racketeering, conspiracy and accepting illegal gratuities. Rostenkowski, whose name has become nearly synonymous with the House Post Office scandal, faces trial on 17 counts of embezzlement, fraud and witness-tampering.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 6, 1994 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 4 Metro Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
House contests--A story in Saturday's Times incorrectly carried a photo of former Compton Mayor Walter Tucker. The photo should have shown his son, Rep. Walter R. Tucker III (D-Compton).

The political resilience of this bipartisan quartet illustrates a little-noticed phenomenon of this campaign: Despite all the turnover expected in Congress, most incumbents seeking reelection to the House are likely to win.

A total of 44 face no major party opposition. Another 118 have opponents who had spent less than $25,000 by mid-October in largely token campaigns. And all seven Louisiana lawmakers seeking reelection are already assured return trips to Capitol Hill because they received more than 50% of the vote in the state's open primary, sparing them a general-election race.

According to the parties' congressional campaign committees, the maximum number of battlegrounds this fall is only 130 to 150 seats--or about one-third of the House. This includes 28 districts held by Democrats and 17 by Republicans with no incumbent running. The other potentially competitive races involve 75 Democrats and 13 to 30 Republicans.

This means that even in such a volatile year--when voters are professed to be in a mood to "throw the bums out"--two-thirds of sitting House members appear to be coasting to victory.

The forces that have combined to keep lawmakers coming back to Washington are still very much at work, political professionals say. In addition to lopsided voting registration, these include significant incumbent fund-raising advantages; other perks of incumbency, such as staff, district offices and publicly funded mail and the recognition, personal popularity and political expertise gained during years in public life.

Moreover, voters themselves have expressed a distinct ambivalence in recent years: they generally are fed up with Congress as an institution but satisfied with their own representative. A recent survey by The Los Angeles Times Poll found that 51% of respondents said their member of Congress deserved to be reelected while 36% said their lawmaker did not.

If there was ever evidence that some lawmakers simply defy opposition, it may be the four indicated incumbents on whom voters will pass judgment next Tuesday. All four have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

Such circumstances are hardly unique in the annals of American history. More than 90 members of Congress have been indicted and many sought reelection with charges pending. In nearly a third of such cases, the charges were dropped or the lawmakers were acquitted.

Rostenkowski, who is seeking a 19th term, is charged with diverting $636,600 in federal funds and $56,267 in campaign funds for personal use. He has strongly asserted that he is innocent. At the same time, he has reimbursed the government for $82,000 in purchases.

After going all-out to survive a spirited primary challenge in his Democratic district, Rostenkowski was thought to be home free. He faces a little-known and underfunded Republican opponent.

Michael Flanagan, 31, a lawyer and political novice, had spent only $44,887 as of Oct. 19. But after a Republican National Committee poll showed him running surprisingly ahead, the committee pumped about $58,000 into the challenger's campaign this week, most of it for a last-minute television ad.

"This race, very minimally, is very winnable," a Flanagan spokesman said Friday.

Rostenkowski is making a pitch to voters that his reelection will "give me a chance to clear my name." In a $60,000 mailing that was to start arriving at constituents' homes Thursday, he wrote about "a cloud hanging over me, a cloud I'm certain will disappear once I get my day in court."

Voters may buy his argument but many do so grudgingly. "So what are we gonna get if we replace old guys like Rosty?" asked Doris Kugler, a retired hospital bookkeeper in Chicago. "Just younger versions of them, that's all."

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