Congress used to adjourn well before general elections to allow members plenty of time to go home and campaign in person.
But the times, they are a-changing - and campaigns are changing vastly, too.When the 101st Congress adjourned Sunday, it was just nine days before the Nov. 6 election. That's the closest adjournment has come to a general election in the post-World-War-II era.
The record before that was 17 days, in 1988 and 1986, and also in 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who is not running for re-election this year, said "liberal Democrats" figure that staying in Washington actually helps their campaigns.
"That way they don't have to debate back home," he said.
It's likely the same thought crossed the minds of a few Republican incumbents, too.
In fact early this month, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, announced that he couldn't schedule any more debates with Democrat Kenley Brunsdale because he was just too busy with legislative negotiations and work in Washington.
Meanwhile, Republican Genevieve Atwood complained that Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, was also ducking debates with her by staying in Washington and often sending surrogates to scheduled joint meetings.
Scholarly studies on the outcome of candidate debates generally conclude that incumbents as a rule should avoid debates because they only raise the stature of less- known challengers. But avoiding them brings charges of cowardice - unless incumbents just have to stay in Washington.
Few debates this year involving Utah congressmen occurred person-to-person. A few radio debates had the incumbents participate by telephone from Washington, and some on television with the incumbents linked by satellite. That gave the incumbents an advantage of appearing to work hard.
Meanwhile, incumbents reaped free press daily from stories about the advance of their bills and their statements on the budget wars. The challengers received much less attention.
Also, incumbents find it less necessary now than in the past to be in-state for late campaigning. In the past, such campaigning involved a lot of shaking hands, giving speeches, passing out pamphlets and visiting as many people personally as possible.
Now, the majority of campaigning is done through television and radio advertisements or mass mail. The mass media approach, instead of the personal approach, does not force them to adjourn early.
Surprisingly, such changing dependence on mass media may also have helped lengthen the budget wars that forced Congress to stay in session so long.
The mass media have made modern politicians much less dependent on political parties. Party machinery in days of old was needed to get out the vote, deliver campaign messages and raise money. Today, messages go by mass media and campaign funds come mostly from the political action committees of special interests instead of the party.
So when President Bush and the Democratic leadership in Congress pushed members to pass the budget package produced by their summit, members felt little fear in refusing.
Even Ed Rollins, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps elect Republicans to the House, sent out a memo telling candidates it was perfectly fine to campaign against Bush and his budget actions. Bush reportedly wants him fired, but Rollins is hired independently by House members - not the central party.
Even Hatch - who feels strongly that members should still generally stand behind the president - said that politically, "Rollins was giving the best advice he could give."
In short, changing times and more TV and radio ads make incumbents more likely to stay in session longer, less likely to follow leaders, less likely to debate and more likely to depend on impersonal campaigning techniques funded by special interests.