Click here for more current events lesson plans matched to national standards.
How to use this story in a classroom...
Election 2002: High Stakes
Online NewsHour Update: Prescription Drug Coverage
Online NewsHour: Social Security Reform
High Stakes in Fall Election Posted: 09.25.02
The November 5th elections will decide which party controls Congress for the next two years and the results could determine the direction of public policy for years to come.
The political climate in both the House of Representatives and the Senate could shift considerably this year. Democrats now control the Senate with a slight edge - one single vote. And inthe 435 seat House, Republicans currently hold 222 seats to the Democrats' 210 (Two others are independent and one is vacant).
This November, thirty-four of the 100 Senate seats are up for re-election along with all of the 435 House seats.
This election is unique because either party could gain the majority in both chambers of Congress and control the direction of public policy for years to come.
What's at stake
With Republicans in control of the House, the Bush administration can count on the support of that chamber of Congress.
If the Democrats take control, the House's agenda would be set by a new set of lawmakers with very different priorities on critical issues such as the economy, the war on terrorism, the future of Social Security and how Americans pay for health care. And that would mean more battles between President Bush and Congress.
The last time the House of Representatives changed hands, from Democrats to Republicans in 1994, the debate in Washington radically shifted from creating a national health care plan to balancing the budget and cutting government spending.
While such a dramatic shift is not expected, the political national agenda might change if Democrats win a large number of races this November.
Issues affecting elections
As the election season heats up and TV commercial breaks begin to fill with political ads, two issues are becoming increasingly important: money and redistricting.
The Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform Bill, which limits "soft money," takes affect on November 6 and the Republican and Democratic national parties are scrambling to spend what they collected before the deadline. This will mean many more issue ads on television as the election becomes closer.
Redistricting will also play a part. The number of people living in a state determines the number of House seats it has. When new census results come out, like they did last year, states can gain or lose a seat. State legislatures can also redraw district boundaries. Eighteen states are affected by redistricting this year.
The effects of redistricting can be seen in a close race in Maryland's 8th Congressional District. The race pits the woman who holds the office (the incumbent), Republican Connie Morella, against a relative newcomer, Democrat Christopher Van Hollen.
Morella has been very popular, but this year, the state legislature redrew her district to include more liberal voters, which could make a difference in November.
Another example of a tight race is in Mississippi's 3rd Congressional District where the population fell and the state had to combine two districts into one. Now, two popular incumbents, Republican Charles "Chip" Pickering and Democrat Ronnie Shows, are in a very close race against each other.
Voters turnout on a steady decline
Historically, midterm elections don't attract as many voters as in a presidential election year. After September 11, there was hope that more Americans would want to participate in the democratic process. However, this year 's primary yielded one of the lowest turnouts in U.S. history.
In a book called the Vanishing Voter, Harvard University researchers report that potential voters don't go to the polls because they are disappointed with how campaigns are run and believe that the political parties are controlled by big business and other special interests.
The question this fall is whether critical issues like the war on terrorism and the economy will convince voters that despite the problems, democratic elections are something worth participating in.
--By Raven Tyler, NewsHour Extra
Copyright © MacNeil-Lehrer Productions All Rights Reserved