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You are to write a 4-6 page “member profile” of a Member of Congress (either a Representative or a Senator) and the district they represent. You may choose any member you wish – your home Congressperson, someone you’re interested in learning more about... it’s your call.
Your profile does not have to follow a set format. However, it should deal with the following broad topics:
• A description of the district (which for Senators will be a state), giving
relevant demographic, geographical, economic, sociological, and political
characteristics. What is the nature of the constituency? What
are the district’s major employers and types of industries? What
is the political history of the district (i.e., does it ‘lean Republican’,
is it ‘solidly Democratic’ – does it
vote for presidential candidates of the same party as its Member of Congress?)
• The current incumbent’s relevant personal and political background (think about factors like age, place of birth, hometown, education, military career, occupation(s), family, religion, prior offices, length of service...)
• The member’s recent electoral history (any primary opponents? Any tough races? What do these imply for his/her relationship to the district?), fund-raising success, and the like (where does s/he get funding? Any particular interest groups, for example? Does s/he take PAC money?)
• The member’s ideological orientation, as measured by interest group ratings such as the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), League of Conservative Voters (LCV), and others. Include a discussion of recent party unity and presidential support scores. (If the member is a freshman, how did his/her predecessor vote? How is the new member different, or similar?)
• The member’s committee, subcommittee, and leadership assignments. Why do you think the member chose service on these committees?
• The issue areas the member concentrates on. What type of legislation has s/he introduced or co-sponsored? Why were these issues chosen for emphasis?
• Pull all this together: how do these sets of things interact?
That is, how does the incumbent’s background and voting record reflect,
or not reflect, the district s/he represents? Is this a “good fit”?
How does the member try to represent him or her-self to the district – what
image does s/he try to present (e.g., through his/her official webpage,
or mailings; how many district offices; what are his/her staff assigned to
Flowing from this, consider the member’s future. Does s/he represent a safe or marginal seat? Why? Will the member likely stay in Congress for a long time, or not? What other offices might the member be interested in seeking? This is clearly guesswork, but make it informed guesswork to the extent possible.
Some suggestions on sourcing...
Essential sources include current and past editions of The Almanac
of American Politics and
Politics in America. Start there. Also consider the Congressional Quarterly [CQ] Weekly Report,
the CQ Almanac, the current issue of the Congressional Staff Directory, and various references like
Congressional Districts in the 1990s and Elections in America. A wealth of information is also
available on-line, starting with the members’ own homepages (usually through the House and Senate sites). Keep in mind that district newspapers may be available on-line (either directly or via Lexis-Nexis).
The U.S. Census Bureau is another
good source of demographic information.
Project Vote-Smart contains some issue-oriented information. A huge
number of election-oriented links can be found at
http://www.american.edu/dlublin/old/sites/election.htm (among others, the “Record of American
Democracy” site linked through there might be of interest); campaign finance information is
available through the Federal Election Commission and the “Open Secrets” organization.
Again, the assignment is due September 27, at the start of class.