Everything new is old again

For all the change supposedly blowing into Washington in this election, the face of the new Congress, aside from having around two-dozen more Democrats, won’t change all that much.

To be sure, there will be new people around the U.S. Capitol — about 60, in the House and at least nine in the Senate.

And based on victories declared for all but a dozen or so contests around the nation, Democrats will outnumber Republicans by 80-some votes in the House, the biggest majority since 1992, while holding a solid majority of at least 56 in the Senate.

But beyond the partisan breakdown, come January the demographics of the 111th Congress won’t be all that much different than those of the 110th. After all, 90 percent of lawmakers who ran for another term won.

At this point, it does not appear that any of a handful of black challengers was elected to Congress on Tuesday even as the nation was electing the first black president.

In fact, the elevation of Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois to the White House removes the only black member of the Senate — unless Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appoints a black successor to serve until the next national election in 2010.

But at least 38 of 39 current black House members were re-elected. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., despite a pending federal corruption trial, won a Democratic runoff to seek another term in a Dec. 6 special election.

In terms of age, the Senate won’t look much younger. The average age of the six freshmen determined thus far is 59.6. Average age of senators in the current Congress is 61.7 years.

With two races involving female candidates still undecided, it appears there will still be fewer than 100 women out of a cast of 535 making federal laws (there were 90 at the start of this Congress), although the 17 women in the new Senate is a record.

Two new Democratic women were elected to the Senate — former New Hampshire Gov. Jean Shaheen and North Carolina State Sen. Kay Hagan. But Hagan defeated GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole, so there was a net gain of only one seat.

Likewise, Republicans Lynn Jenkins, the Kansas state treasurer, and former Wyoming state treasurer Cynthia Lummis, and a former Democratic congressional aide, Betsy Markey, each took seats now held by other women. And three other seats now occupied by female members — Thelma Drake of Virginia, Darlene Hooley of Oregon and Deborah Pryce of Ohio — were captured by men.

But at least five female Democratic challengers won seats held by men, for a net gain of at least two in the House. They are former state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas in Florida; state Senate majority leader Debbie Halvorson in Illinois; former state Senate majority leader Chellie Pingree in Maine; Lake Erie Arboretum director Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania; and former state Senate minority leader Dina Titus in Nevada.

And while it’s unclear how family-friendly the next Congress will be, there will be plenty of family ties.

First cousins Mark Udall of Colorado and Tom Udall of New Mexico will be serving together as freshman Democratic senators. Some of their campaign ads urged residents in Southwest border regions to "vote for the Udall nearest you." It remains to be seen whether their second cousin, Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, a two-term Republican, will emerge from a close race to join them.

All three sets of brothers and one pair of sisters return to Congress: Sen. Ken and Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo.; Sen. Carl and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich; Reps. Lincoln and Mario Dias-Balart, R-Fla., and Reps. Loretta and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.

And both halves of the House bi-coastal Republican power couple of Rep. Connie Mack IV of Florida and Rep. Mary Bono Mack of California were also returned for another term.


(Contact Lee Bowman at bowmanl(at)shns.com.)