As Congress winds up this year's session, most members don't seem to worry much about last-minute work on several bills. But they do worry openly about how soon they can adjourn and go back home to campaign full-time.
Recent history sugggests they shouldn't worry too much about rushing home to campaign.In fact in 1986, 98 percent of the incumbent House members who ran were re-elected. They couldn't expect much better job security, unless they worked for their fathers-in-law.
History hasn't been quite as good to Utah congressmen seeking re-election, but it hasn't exactly been bad either.
In the 53 times since statehood that incumbent House members have run for re-election in Utah, they won 41 races - for a batting average of .774. On the Senate side, incumbents from Utah have won 15 of their 21 races for re-election - a .711 batting average.
The last time a Utah House member lost a race for re-election was when Gunn McKay lost to Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, in 1980. The last time an incumbent senator lost was in 1976 when Frank Moss lost to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
Only once have all Utah congressional incumbents seeking re-election been thrown out in the same year - 1932, when Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal swept into power.
Why are congressmen so effective at being re-elected? The answers have more to do with their work in Washington than their campaign trips home.
For example, each congressional office has staffers whose job is to solve constituents' problems with the federal government. What better way to win friends and influence voters than to help voters work out frustrations with Social Security payments and Medicare bills.
Incumbents' work in Washington also provides opportunities to increase name recognition in ways their opponents cannot easily match.
Incumbents' routine action brings almost daily news coverage. They have press secretaries to help spread the word. And they may send newsletters - at government expense - to each voter's home.
Congressmen also normally have great advantages over their opponents in fund raising. Donors already know incumbents can win elections, and feel they are taking much less of a gamble when they spend money on them.
Other factors that help incumbents include, for House members anyway, that boundaries of their districts have often been drawn by friendly legislators so that it favors one party heavily over another. Also, incumbents are experienced campaigners, and often face opponants who are newcomers who may not know how to organize or raise funds like they do.
In short, congressmen need to worry about re-election about as much as members of the Soviet Politbureau. So it really doesn't matter much how quickly they can leave to campaign full-time. After all, their most forceful campaign work is simply their regular work in Washington.