Political Ambition

Who Decides to Run for Congress

Linda L. Fowler and Robert D. McClure

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How do politicians decide whether or not to run for Congress? What is involved in the winnowing process that dictates, months before the election, the choices available to voters on the ballot? Using extensive interviews and analyses of district data and opinion polls, Linda Fowler and Robert McClure argue that House elections are intelligible only if we look beyond that declared candidates to those who could have run but chose not to. Their book, set in New York’s can Congressional District during the elections of 1984 and 1986, assesses the personal and contextual factors that motivate some individuals to enter a House race and induce others to remain on the sidelines. By uncovering the hidden obstacles that line the road to Washington, Fowler and McClure reveal why only the most ambitious men and women complete the journey.
Fowler and McClure contend that the cost cna complexity of competitive House races now demand a level of commitment and advance planning that only those with a highly focused desire to serve in Congress can sustain. Despite the increased presence of national parties and PACs in congressional races, they say, it is the local political context that dominates the decision to run. Within this setting, individual candidates, not party organizations develop the strategies, manage the resources, and define the alternatives in most House races. Fowler and McClure discuss how changes in American politics such as reapportionment, the redistribution of power away from Washington, and the transformation of parties and interest groups affect the nation's supply of competitive office-seekers. And they devote special attention to the recruitment of female legislators, offering insight into the continued failure of women to make significant inroads into the House of Representatives.

"Meticulously documented study of the battle to succeed New York Congressman Barber Conable in 1984 and 1986. They offer a first-rate microlevel complement to the many macro-analyses of congressional elections as they tell the story of the maneuverings that take place among candidates in one New York congressional district on the occasion of an open seat. Their study is potentially useful not just to students of Congress but also to those interested more generally in elite political behavior and decision making."—Timothy Bledsoe, Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science

"Fowler and McClure have performed an outstanding service. . . . Political Ambition is a rare commodity--a scholarly work that is fun to read. It will appeal both to the specialist and to the general observer of the political scene."—Joseph A. Imler, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

"An extraordinarily interesting and important book. . . . Like other good case studies, this one is rich in detail and it brings the complexities and subtleties of real politics to light. But unlike most case studies, this one makes an important conceptual contribution to the study of congressional elections. . . . An excellent book. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of congressional elections."—Jon Bond, Journal of Politics

"In this carefully researched, well-organized presentation, Fowler and McClure effectively demonstrate the value of a case study. . . . Fowler and McClure have produced an important book deserving the serious attention of those with interests in legislative politics, campaigns and elections, and political parties."—Bruce Oppenheimer, Social Science Quarterly

"Rich in detail and it brings the complexities and subtleties of real politics to light. . . . Makes an important conceptual contribution to the study of congressional elections. . . . This is an excellent book. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of congressional elections." —Jon R. Bond, American Literature

"Timely and useful. . . . In-depth interviews and case studies. . . . Provide[s] much food for thought."—Frederick H. Schapsmeier, History

"Fowler and McClure have produced an excellent study of political ambition and recruitment certain to join Joseph Schlesinger’s Ambition and Politics (1966), Jeff Fishel’s Party and Opposition, and James David Barber’s The Lawmakers as a significant contribution to the field."—Choice

"Their book is a splendid reminder that politics is really the most human of endeavors, and nothing is more central to its human dimension than plain old ambition."—David S. Broder, Washington Post

"A landmark book in the analysis of political recruitment. Folwer and McClure unravel one of the great unsolved mysteries of democratic politics: why some politicians choose to run for higher office while others choose not to do so--and what difference their decisions make for the rest of us. Their study belongs on everyone’s basic reading list in American politics."—Richard F. Fenno, Jr., University of Rochester
ISBN: 9780300044058
Publication Date: August 29, 1990
264 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4