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What Are Congressional Races?

By K. Kinsella
Updated May 17, 2024
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Elections held to elect members of the United States Congress are commonly referred to as the congressional races. The United States Congress consists of two parts: the senate and the house of representatives. Congressional races occur every two years at which time members of the house of representatives must stand for re-election. While two year terms are served by those in the house of representatives, those in the senate are required to serve six year terms. Senate elections are staggered in such a way that one third of the senators terms end every two years.

The majority of the elected members of Congress are members of the Republican or Democratic parties although independents and members of other political parties are able to stand for election. Two senators represent each state in the Senate which means that 100 senators sit in Congress. The house of representatives has 435 elected members. States with larger electorates have more representatives in Congress than states with smaller populations.

The congressional races begin when local Democratic and Republican party members choose candidates to stand for office. Registered members of each political party are able to choose the party's candidates during local elections. Selected party candidates then stand in statewide elections in which independents and representatives of other political parties are also on the ballot. Elections are always held in November and the successful candidates take their seats in the Congress during January of the following year.

During congressional races, candidates from all parties as well as independents attempt to raise money to cover the cost of running the political campaign. Candidates receive funds from local supporters and corporate donors. Volunteers often conduct telemarketing campaigns to solicit donations and to encourage registered part members to vote on election day. Critics of the congressional system argue that wealthy candidates and candidates with wealthy supporters have an unfair advantage in the electoral campaign, because they can afford to buy more air time for political advertisements on television and radio. Supporters of the congressional system argue that independents have access to media outlets and can therefore compete alongside representatives of the two major political parties.

Presidential elections in the United States are held every four years which means that one set of congressional elections occur midway through the president's term in office. Many people interpret the results of mid-term congressional races as being indicative of the electorate's opinion of the performance of the president. The congressional races have a direct impact on the President because the President has to garner the support of the majority of both the senate and the house of representatives to pass political bills. Political standoffs often arise when the congressional races cause a situation to arise in which the President is from one political party and the majority of the members of Congress are aligned to the other major political party.

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